A word with a kaleidoscope of examples, varying with time, place, culture, and in terms of artistic creations, influenced by technology, perspective, skill, vision, circumstances, materials, and processes.
The world we live in sends us and reflects back at us ideas of what beauty can be. Some are time-worn and true, like what is found in nature – intense colors and details of plants and flowers, birds and other animals, intricate spider webs, sea creatures and snowflakes – few would dispute their intrinsic appeal.
What we saw during our private tour of Cooper Hewitt’s Design Triennial on Beauty opened doors to new ways to consider the term: Beauty can also be fierce, stark, ethereal, luminescent, whimsical, fantastic, other-worldly, and reverent. My mind now conjures an image from the exhibition with each of those words.
To see contemporary creations representing interpretations of beauty from all over the world – many handmade, many with cutting-edge technologies – all while processing and sorting which were beautiful to me, or to others, and most of all: Why? Why do I love one thing, and am unfazed by the other, when the viewer next to me may have the complete opposite reaction.
And then there were first impressions, and last impressions: sometimes, we saw a work, like the cabinet Engineering Temporality by Tuomas Markunpoika — it was clear that it took a tremendous amount of work, dedication and skill, but the method and materials were not clear, nor was the inspiration. Then we read the label, and our guide explained it to us further. After that, it took on an entirely new meaning: it was clearly something that had multiple inspirations, and reasons for being – not just an object of beauty, demonstrating tremendous expertise, but the artist shared a clear motivation for its creation, which contributed to an added layer of meaning and appreciation. Many of the works had this same attention to detail, created by someone determined to imagine, design and create, driven by their own motivations.
To me, the story behind each piece enhanced its beauty. And hearing the often very different, insightful perspectives and perceptions of my fellow group members, I learned that beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder – and for me, it can be subject to change, refinement, and even redefinition.