Balancing Act? Maybe Not

When I started writing this, and actually for a long time before, I was thinking from a point of view that there was an inherent conflict between aesthetics and values. I think now that this is wrong. I think aesthetics are essentially neutral. There is no problem with aesthetics as such, yet there can be a problem with intention.

Aesthetics, or let’s say beauty, are a natural and necessary part of being human. Attachment to beauty, however, is a problem. I’m repeating myself from earlier writings, of course, because this is an important thread. I read attachment and craving in a similar light. Craving, as in the cause of suffering in the four noble truths. I’ve heard it said that wealth is not a problem, but attachment to wealth is. Attachment to wealth is a bigger problem than even at the individual level as well. Attachment to wealth leads to greed, and therefore leads to social ills and unequal income distribution. There will always be some inequality, and that’s fine. But to the extent we in the United States have it now, it’s a systemic problem.

Those idiosyncrasies leading to an attachment to wealth are too many to discuss here, and for each instance of greed there is an individual pathology. One of them though, might be an attachment to beauty. Beauty, in itself, is good; attachment, again, not so much. Beauty becomes warped and twisted, an insidious caricature of itself (for some reason, and I can’t imagine what that would be, I think of Donald Trump). That’s why I believe strongly in a small is beautiful aesthetic. Don’t hog things and space; smaller means less, and less means an emphasis on quality over quantity. In an architectural space, the quality of the experience is what matters, not the amount of space. Here there is a balance, of course; too little space for too many people reduces that quality, and then we’re back to the larger economic questions regarding income distribution and so forth. Aesthetics and values are neither enemies nor even contradictory. The intention behind any action, any design is a large part of what matters (though not every intention will lead to good design; there is always room for critique and disagreement and even poor quality or execution). But it does matter and should be a part of every design, action and judgment of beauty.


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