Thoughts on thoughts and images of beautiful things

Tag Archives: Philosophy

“But Beautiful” – Hanya Yanagihara


As an art lover, the question of what beauty is often crosses my mind in the context of admiring art. I took a philosophy of art class in college, which allowed me to explore this question further. The primal question of whether or not beauty can even be defined in  is perplexing enough, let alone attempting to assess the level or quality of beauty. I found this Editor’s Letter by Hanya Yanagihara, the Editor-in-Chief for the The New York Times Style Magazine, very insightful. I thought her whole letter was thought-provoking, but especially the bit below.

But of all the ways in which art and design test our understanding of the world, one of the most important is how they make us question what exactly beauty is. Great art and design remind us of two things: first, that what is beautiful is not necessarily what is pleasant or pretty; and second, that the search for beauty, in all its forms, is elemental to the human condition. Every person in every culture, no matter how impoverished or restrictive, tries to ornament her life. This desire — to stimulate the senses, to remind ourselves of the wildness of the imagination — is not an indulgence or a luxury, but an instinct, one that defines us as human. What, after all, is the entire arc of history but a compendium of things — the pottery, cloaks, jewelry, houses, furniture, vessels and tapestries that humankind has always made (and will always make) to assert its presence in the world?

…to find and reveal and present beauty in all its forms, even if sometimes those forms don’t resemble what we understand as beauty at all. Beauty might be something ephemeral, made more potent for the brevity of its life…

I think Yanagihara perfectly captures that beauty is not simply an aesthetic characteristic we assign to things, but that it’s actually present in virtually all that the human race brings forth in the world. We have this drive to create something for ourselves or for others in an effort to exercise our creativity and imagination not only for a useful purpose, but also to simply satisfy our instinct to surround ourselves with what feels good.


The connections between


Every motion in the world taken separately was calculated and purposeful, but, taken together, they were spontaneously intoxicated with the general stream of life which united them all.

Doctor Zhivago

I’ve had a special place in my heart for Russian literature ever since I took a Russian literature class my freshman year of college, which I kind of fell into by accident and it turned out to be one of the best things that’s happened to me. I needed to fulfill a writing credit, as well as a philosophy credit, and there happened to be two classes taught in tandem, an introduction to philosophy and Russian literature (which fulfilled the writing credit), so I took advantage of killing two birds with one stone. They were both taught by incredibly smart, kind, and genuine women who I admire dearly. I also happen to have known them since I was a child because they were friends with my parents, which made having them as professors extra special. It was because of this class and how inspired I was by the philosophy professor that I went on to major in philosophy and took most of my classes with her. She really became like a mentor to me.

In the Russian literature portion of the class we read Fathers & Sons by Ivan Turgenev, short stories by Nikolai Gogol, A Hero of Our Time by Mikhail Lermontov, Notes from the Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and of course Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. We didn’t read Doctor Zhivago, but it’s something I’ve been reading on my own after watching the 2002 TV Mini-series and loving it. It’s definitely become one of my favorite things to watch around Christmas time; not that it’s particular festive, but there’s something about the wintry atmosphere that it makes it feel appropriate to watch around the holidays. I don’t read nearly enough anymore, but thinking back on these classes inspires me to cuddle up on a cold day and get lost in a book for the afternoon.

I love this quote because for me it summarizes how I feel about the string of events that make up our lives. I don’t think of these events as isolated from one another, but rather very connected in a way that we might not be able to grasp. I often wonder why related things seem to pop up around the same time and I find it hard to believe that it’s just a coincidence. So I have to believe that the way things line up in life is tremendously important and somewhat out of our hands.


An experiment with Simone de Beauvoir’s philosophy


As a Philosophy major as an undergrad, I read a little bit of Simone de Beauvoir, so when I saw this article about someone recounting their journey in her footsteps, I was definitely inspired. I’m not sure I could hike in the Alps for seven days in espadrilles…but this just proves how much of a badass she was. The author explains Beauvoir’s philosophy of not letting “her ideas succumb to reality” and that we can create what we want for ourselves and actually make it happen. She doesn’t agree with Beauvoir entirely in this respect, but she does acknowledge that it’s an interesting way of life to try for a short time:

It is a delusion to think that life has no wills but your own, or that you can thrive without the care and concern of others. But sometimes you can engineer a temporary condition, and produce a sense of accomplishment and self-reliance that uplifts you.

Philosophy and Interiors


It was recently pointed out to me that although I studied Philosophy in college, a rather challenging discipline, I have a great interest in Interior Design and aesthetics in general. There seems to be a lapse between the intellectual pursuit of philosophy and the somewhat shallow interest in home decorating…so how do I reconcile this? I beg to argue that an appreciation for interior spaces is not so shallow and can actually facilitate intellectual thought. For me, it is important to create a beautiful, comfortable space in order to be productive. Doing so actually gets my mind going and inspires me. Creating these spaces is a lot of fun for me and I’m actually almost OCD about it. My surroundings have to be just right, or I feel anxious and have to make a change. Not only do I enjoy creating these cozy spaces for myself, I like to go to  places that reflect a similar kind of look and feeling. In college, some of my most memorable, most productive writing was done at Starbucks, a place that I think exudes a very comfortable and inspiring feeling. For me, interior spaces are not just about the aesthetic they present, but also the feeling they evoke. The comfortable and inspiring feeling, I think, leads to more productive and creative thinking.

Even when we’re ok, we’re not


Just because we may think of things in a certain way does not mean that that is the way they are. We often skew our perception of certain things that might be sad into a positive perspective to avoid feeling down about them. But this does not change the way things actually are. Conversely, we may think of things that are perfectly ok in the world in a negative way when really they are not. So how can we know if how we think of things is as they are, or if they have an entirely separate identity independent of our thoughts of them? I think it is rather difficult to truly know the distinction, and sometimes the difference can become blurred. So, even when we think we’re ok and things in the world are ok, they may very well not be.

The life of a philosopher is a life of luxury


The life of a philosopher is a life of luxury…to just be able to sit around and think. The possibilities of thought and what one might gain insight to through thought are phenomenal. All the questions that could be answered by one very simple, fundamental thing that we take for granted, THOUGHT, are endless. And that is the beauty of thought – it is never finished, done. You can always think and think and think more…and perhaps come to more and more conclusions about things that you always wanted answers to. And those answers certainly don’t need to be final. In fact, they probably won’t be final, because as you accumulate more thoughts over time, you will probably change your mind about things and reach a different conclusion. This is the kind of life a philosopher has the luxury of leading…thinking all of the time. But after some time, the luxury may begin to fade and turn into despair as one realizes all that there is to think about and the limits of time and possible answers. Furthermore, after all is thought, what does it amount to? Does it lead to any kind of change or progress in one’s life or in the world? Perhaps sometimes yes and sometimes no. This is the despair of the life of a philosopher.



I think one’s memories and how one thinks about the past has a lot to do with one’s present mindset. For instance, good and pleasant memories can have a positive impact on one’s current state as one reflects on those good memories, and, on the other hand, bad memories can have a negative effect. I’ve discovered this as I’ve gone through both good and bad times and reflected on both. Pleasant memories are ever so rewarding as they can instantly put you in a good mood and inspire you to have similar good times in the future. However, bad memories of sad times are so difficult to get past and can certainly leave you in a rut if you cannot get past them. Lately, I have been reflecting a lot on good memories, and not even on purpose to put me in a good mood, but they just come to me…which is another thing altogether – isn’t it interesting that sometimes certain memories just come to us for no apparent reason? But on further reflection we realize that there is something happening in our present that has subconsciously reminded us of that past memory, and then the two, past and present, become connected.

Post-college conundrum


As a recent college graduate looking for a job, the hardest thing I find about being in this position is not looking for a job itself, but rather adjusting my mindset from a college student to a working person. In college, at least for me as a philosophy major, it was all about your ideas and how well you can process and analyze information. Not to mention, writing well too. But in the working world, it’s about your skills and what kind of set of skills you have to offer to sell to someone that needs them and can use you for them. This adjustment is what I have a hard time with because I do really miss what was wanted from you in college intellectually and not too eager to have someone use me because of my skills in the ‘real world. But I suppose only time and experience will tell which of the two very different worlds I prefer, or whether or not there is one that is simply ethically better.

Art’s Intrigue


This past year, I took a philosophy of art class and it was extremely interesting. Deciphering what a work of art is, or even what counts as art, regardless of whether or not it is good, is rather difficult. Trying to get past the subjectivity of differing tastes in art is challenging enough, but then deciding how we go about judging art is even harder, once again because of differences in opinion. Throughout the course we explored various theories on art, both old and new, including those of Plato, Clive Bell, George Dickey, Denis Dutton, Kant, Dewey, Susan Sontag, Hume, Elaine Scarry, and others.

So what comprises art? Plato’s idea is that we begin with art, or forms more generally, and as we intellectualize the forms that we witness or experience we form a more refined concept of forms, or art at this point, and come full circle. Bell believed that art was that which possessed significant form, but what exactly significant form is, is unclear. For Dickey, a work of art has to be an artifact and it has to be made for a public audience (the public audience does not necessarily need to be a big audience, just as long as there is at least one member). This idea for what art is begins to make more sense than Bell’s; although Plato’s is still amicable. Dutton believed that a work of art must be comprised of complexity, serious content, purpose, and distance. These facets are fairly self-explanatory. Distance may be a little bit trickier to understand, and it means that experiencing a work of art takes us outside of ourselves, our lives, and distances us from ourselves. His theory further defines what art is, and I see more merit in and take it more seriously than others.

Kant is often thought of as the father of aesthetics and his theory is a bit more complicated. He further defines what Bell described as significant form, in that there is something in and of itself present in a work of art independent of our experience of it, and it may out of our mind’s grasp. For Kant, it is what jars us once in a while that is ART…what takes us by surprise, or takes us aback and makes us stop and reflect on that thing. Beauty is an important component of art for Kant, so for him art must be beautiful, whatever beautiful might mean…Dewey has yet another perception of what art is. For him, art is an experience. It is not necessarily any experience that counts as a work of art, but rather those experiences that we set apart from the rest and think of as particularly special…they are AN experience rather than just random experiences. As we go through our lives, we are constantly going back and forth between the two roles of creating the experience, or art, and viewing the experience (art). He also emphasizes our stream of consciousness as being important in the formation of our experiences. AN experience is when we feel most alive and this is why the arts are valuable…to bring people to life.

Scarry has yet another take on art, as she believes that our pursuit of art is a pursuit for truth. She also thinks that when we encounter beauty we have a drive to replicate or reflect it by making art. When we experience beauty we realize the potential for error and, therefore, want to pursue truth. She even believes that beauty can lead to justice, but it is unclear exactly how…however, beauty can also get in the way of justice because it has a kind of transcendental feeling and can remove one from the injustices of the world. She criticizes that too much interest in beauty can lead to materialism, which is obviously a negative thing. I think all of these thinkers present interesting theories for art, but Dutton is probably the one that I think is the best.

One of my favorite artists is Alphonse Mucha, the Czech Art Nouveau artist. I think the way in which he depicts women is just beautiful…so perhaps this is telling that I believe beauty, of one sort or another, in one way or another, is an important facet of art. His pieces also depict real women, which adds a personal connection to the works of art. I suppose Mucha’s works give me various feelings that these philosophers have indicated as important to art…AN experience, the pursuit of truth, complexity, serious content, distance, purpose, etc. Thus, why he is one of my favorite artists and looking at, or experiencing, his works is such a pleasure for me.

Philosophy, as a way of life


I am currently a college student, a senior, majoring in Philosophy, and last week I took my senior comprehensive exam needed in order to graduate. It was a grueling four hour exam, but I felt rather accomplished afterward and so relieved and happy when I found out that I had passed two days later. Reflecting back on my time studying philosophy, in light of the exam, I am reminded of how happy I am that I chose the philosophical path as opposed to any other area of study.

Philosophy saves my soul. It truly does. And this is why I decided to study philosophy. There is something about the possibility of acquiring ultimate truths about the world that makes one feel complete and accomplished. As I study various philosophers with differing viewpoints, I have to sift through them and decide which ones I seem to agree with, for the time being anyway, as they can always change, as I believe life is a constant evolution of new ideas and perspectives based on experiences. But once I find one, or a few that I like, I follow them and they become a way of life for me. That’s what I think is so great about philosophy – it can guide you and become a way of life that you embody, and, as philosophy’s goal is to attain ultimate truths about things and find true happiness, that way of life is very rewarding and, in my opinion, far superior to a life unexamined. This is how philosophy saves my soul, and I am so thankful everyday that I did indeed go down the philosophical path of inquiry and self-fulfilment.