Series combining human stories, expert interviews, book illustrations and historic archive to reveal the beauty of books.
Runtime: 30 minutes
The Beauty of Books - The Sense of Beauty - Netflix
The Sense of Beauty is a book on aesthetics by George Santayana. The book was published in 1896 by Charles Scribner's Sons, and is based on the lectures Santayana gave on aesthetics while teaching at Harvard University. Santayana published the book out of necessity, for tenure, rather than inspiration. In an anecdote retold by art critic Arthur Danto of a meeting with Santayana in 1950, Santayana was reported to have said that “they let me know through the ladies that I had better publish a book... on art, of course. So I wrote this wretched potboiler.” The book is divided into four parts: “The Nature of Beauty”, “The Materials of Beauty”, “Form”, and “Expression”. Beauty, as defined by Santayana, is an “objectified pleasure.” It does not originate from divine inspiration, as was commonly described by philosophers, but from a naturalistic psychology. Santayana objects to the role of God in aesthetics in the metaphysical sense, but accepts the use of God as metaphor. His argument that beauty is a human experience, based on the senses, is influential in the field of aesthetics. However, Santayana would reject this approach, which he called “skirt[ing] psychologism,” later on in life. According to Santayana, beauty is linked to pleasure, and is fundamental to human purpose and experience. Beauty does not originate from pleasurable experiences, by itself, or from the objects that bring about pleasure. It is when the experience and emotion of pleasure intertwines with the qualities of the object that beauty arises. Beauty is a “manifestation of perfection”, and as Santayana writes, “the sense of beauty has a more important place in life than aesthetic theory has ever taken in philosophy.”
The Beauty of Books - Part III. — Form - Netflix
In the third part of his book, Santayana turns to describing which experiences can lead to the experience of beauty and why or under which circumstances. Form can be taken literally here in the beginning, but becomes a synonym for mental representations as the section proceeds. He starts by emphasizing that it is only in their combination that sensual elements are able to please (§19) and he directly relates this pleasure to being conscious of the physiological processes underlying them (§21). He identifies symmetry (§22) and a balance between uniformity and multiplicity (§23-24) as eliciting such a pleasing perceptual experience; as an example he uses the beauty one finds in the stars (§25). Santayana points out that memories and other predispositions (″mental habits″) contribute to the perception of an object and hence of its value (§28) - that may ultimately be beauty. Here, another distinction is made between ″value of a form″ and ″value of the type as such″; in the latter sense, an object also has a value in how well it is an example of its class (§28). Santayana here also introduces the concept of ″indeterminate″ objects that are in some way vague or incoherent and thus require and allow the observer to further interpret it (§32), such as landscapes (§33). Due to the necessary contribution of the observer to the perception of indeterminate objects, Santayana also claims that the beauty of these objects depends on the observer (§35). Considering all the aspects contributing to the potential experience of beauty, it may come to no or little surprise that Santayana most generally stated: ″Everything is beautiful because everything is capable in some degree of interesting and charming our attention; but things differ immensely in this capacity to please us in the contemplation of them, and therefore they differ immensely in beauty.″ (§31) In contrast to Plato and Socrates Santayana does not necessarily see a relation between beauty and utility (§38-40). After this last more general consideration about the forms of beauty, he turns to an analysis of beauty in language and literature (§42-47). Even though digressions from his main topic, Santayana in this chapter reveals a number of thoughts and insights that mirror parts of later scientific theories: In his reasoning about how people actually come to have a mental representation of a ″class″ (§29), Santayana's explanations have much in common with the later developed psychological Prototype theory. His account for a bias towards emphasizing and literally enlarging aesthetic ideals in the direction of aesthetic interests parallels the Peak Shift Principle as also mentioned in Ramachandran's and Hirnstein's Laws of Artistic Experience.