• Nathan Banker

The Tuesday Topic: "The Blase and the Pleasant - The Questioning of WHY"


We, as designers, understand the principles of how materials work and what looks the best where. But what separates our minds from our consumers is the questioning of why. Why is this the color something needs to be? Why is this shape more functional? As Mitrovic states, “I am no longer making an aesthetic judgement, but a logical argument.” [1] This evolution of the definition of beauty became an idea of why something should be considered beautiful. The architectural concept of “Anschauung” is the handling of shapes within space and time, a sense intuition.

In the eighteenth century, we no longer considered beauty as objective (physical facts of a property) but subjective. “The judgement of beauty is the result of the subject’s cognitive mental process.” We understood the need for beauty in our process, but what did it bring to our daily lives? How did it affect our decisions? WHY should it matter?

Georg Simmel wrote “The Metropolis and Mental Life” in the early 1900’s and was about the intellectual life within a big city. He soon uncovered the reality that the city dwellers became “blasé” onlookers. They were numb to the hustle and bustle of modern living. “The essence of the blasé attitude is an indifference toward the distinctions between things. Not in the sense that they are not perceived, as is the case of mental dullness, but rather that the meaning and the value of the distinctions between things, and therewith of the things themselves, are experienced as meaningless.” [2] This quote presents how the human mind can become overwhelmed with sensations. It no longer responds to reactionary moments but becomes dense, slow and obtuse. We could no longer react to aesthetic changes or decisions. Man allowed a, “narrow circle of a feudal community” to be dictated by the larger law of the land. Only the few and the powerful made the rules the mass had to follow. These binding chains forced the city dweller to embrace uniqueness and, “making oneself noticeable.” This independent mindset is what created such a culturally diverse metropolitan. It developed a uniqueness only found within its city limits. The blasé man made a form of expression through independent, fringe-like peculiarities to stand out. This sovereign outlook is what makes the city life authentic and beautiful. It moved beyond visual intrigue and embraced a culturally delightful happening. It transcendental development and became its own unique beauty.

The contrary perspective to a city dwellers plight is the pleasant essays of Charles Baudelaire and his subject of much of the writing, Constantin Guys. His outlook on life, happiness and beauty were simple and childlike yet poignant and expansive. He viewed beauty in the most primitive way possible, through the eyes of a child. “The child sees everything in a state of newness; he is always drunk. Nothing more resembles what we call inspiration than the delight with which a child absorbs form and colour.” [3]

Guys found that this passion for form through art was his muse for understanding beauty in an ethereal way. When talking about the idea of beauty [through art], “Man ends by looking like his ideal self.” Within this line, he is viewing art as an expression of what mans intentions and desires are. The artist looks beyond the real interpretation of the form (which, mind you, Plato would vehemently disagree with) and reads into how one sees into themselves or its society and expresses its true purpose. Thus, Guys’ motives and genius were always driven by the curiosity of form. This inquisitiveness led to an appreciation of seeing everywhere as his home, an isolated nomad discovering the blessings of our planet and defining it through form and color. His freedom was his brilliance in understanding beauty through the beholder. “He began by being an observer of life, and only later set himself the task of acquiring the means of expressing it.” Constantin Guys never hurried his appreciation for beauty and life, but understood it with a passion for curiosity before providing his impressions of the world.

Whether trapped within the confines of social ambiguity or truly free to roam and ponder the world, beauty evolved from a physical state to one of emotion and intuition. It is no longer about the “where”, “what” and “how”, but the “why” it needed to be. It became an expression of life and understanding. Mankind rose above the obvious resolution and began to question why it needed to be instead of what it needed to be.

Sources:

  1. Mitrovic, B. (2011) “Philosophy for Architects”. Princeton Architectural Press

  2. Simmel, G. (1903) “The Metropolis and Mental Life”. Blackwell Publishing

  3. Baudelaire, C. (1863) “The Painter of Modern Life”. Phaidon Press


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