The Role of Reason in the Seeking and Manifestation of Beauty

Appreciation of beauty is something which springs initially from our instincts, or from a spiritual inspiration.  The poet John Keats proclaimed “Beauty is truth, truth, beauty.  That is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”   This was not an intellectual statement of the reason, but an inspiration that arose from another source.  There are moments in an individual’s life where the being is awestruck by something that can only be described as beautiful.  It can be a sunrise over the ocean, or a view over the grand canyon, an ancient forest, a glaciated mountain range, a situation, an interaction, or a work of art,  but whatever it turns out to be, there are events in life that simply bring forth the aesthetic sensation.  Whether instinct or inspiration, the sense of beauty can be affected by the reason, as it tries to understand, refine and raise up the appreciation and train the aesthetic sense.  This has given rise to the various arts which try to create, enhance and express the sense of beauty in ever more powerful and moving ways.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “Man’s seeking after beauty reaches its most intense and satisfying expression in the great creative arts, poetry, painting, sculpture, architecture, but in its full extension there is no activity of his nature or his life from which it need or ought to be excluded, — provided we understand beauty both in its widest and its truest sense.  A complete and universal appreciation of beauty and the making entirely beautiful our whole life and being must surely be a necessary character of the perfect individual and the perfect society.  But in its origin this seeking for beauty is not rational; it springs from the roots of our life, it is an instinct and an impulse, an instinct of aesthetic satisfaction and an impulse of aesthetic creation and enjoyment.  Starting from the infrarational parts of our being, this instinct and impulse begin with much imperfection and impurity and with great crudities both in creation and in appreciation.  It is here that the reason comes in to distinguish, to enlighten, to correct, to point out the deficiencies and the crudities, to lay down laws of aesthetics and to purify our appreciation and our creation by improved taste and right knowledge.  While we are thus striving to learn and correct ourselves, it may seem to be the true law-giver both for the artist and the admirer and, though not the creator of our aesthetic instinct and impulse, yet the creator in us of an aesthetic conscience and its vigilant judge and guide.  That which was an obscure and erratic activity, it makes self-conscious and rationally discriminative in its work and enjoyment.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 14,  The Suprarational Beauty, pp. 136-137