The Big Question 42: Where Does Beauty Come From?
Mar 18, 2019 1922
Where does beauty come from?
My wife was born in Australia, but she actually grew up in Chile. When I visited Chile with here, I was amazed at the sunsets over the water.
Where I live in Australia, the beaches face the east. You have to get up early to catch the sunsets. But there in, but over there in Chile they face west – perfect for sunsets. I would annoy our relatives trying to see as many sunsets over the water as possible. They were magnificent, as each day went out in a blaze of glory, painting the sky first in dramatic bursts of colour, tones, and then ever softer hues as the sun sank on the horizon.
There’s something about a sunset over the water that makes me think thoughts far bigger than just thoughts of myself. And that’s where this question, “Where does beauty come from?” comes in.
When you look at a sunset, for example, why isn’t it just boring browns and greys? Now, I know that the reason is because of the composition of our atmosphere and how it interacts with sunlight. However, my question is, “Why is it that way?”
And I don’t believe that beauty is just chance. Because wherever you look, our world is full of beauty. What we see and experience isn’t spread out along a continuum from ugly to beautiful. There’s much more beauty than anything else.
The existence of beauty poses a lot of questions. Another one is why we react to beauty as we do. It seems to galvanise and attract us. Why is that? It isn’t because beauty is a means to an end. By and large, we appreciate beauty for it’s own sake. When we watch a sunset, listen to a beautiful piece of music, or see a beautiful piece of art, we’re not doing it to achieve some other purpose other than to simply appreciate it’s beauty. Why do we do that? Animals, for example, don’t seem to do that. For them, pretty colours and so on are a means to an end.
And another question… Why is our appreciation of beauty a universal trait in humanity? While different cultures and societies might mean that there may be some disagreements around the edges of what is beautiful and what isn’t, by and large, we all instinctively know what is beautiful. There seems to be an objective basis to beauty.
Here is a simple example. There’s a ratio that’s commonly found throughout nature and in the human body, and it’s called the “Golden Ratio.” The ancient Greeks used the Golden Ratio when they built their buildings, and Leonardo di Vinci used it in his paintings. It’s the ratio of 1 to 1.618. Artists and architects learn about it and here’s why. Because when you use it in art or music, it appeal to human beings as being beautiful, but we don’t know why. It just seems to be a universal principle of beautiful design.
Beauty, and how we respond to it, don’t make sense from an evolutionary perspective. It points to the existence of intentional design and to the existence of good in the universe.
I reckon that the beauty of the world around us points us to the goodness of God. And you know, when I sit there and watch a sunset, and the sun dips below the horizon, those are my final thoughts.