How could anyone like that?

NPR commentator and resident philosopher Alain De Botton asks the question “How could anyone like that?” How is it that people have such different aesthetic sensibilities? Isn’t there one Beauty? The following is a synopsis of this fascinating radio spot.

De Botton points out that the Romans coined the phrase “Tastes are not to be disputed.” We call something beautiful, he says, when we detect in it qualities in which we ourselves or society are deficient. For instance, we may find a more or less blank canvas beautiful when our own life is messy and chaotic. We shy away from what we fear and move towards what we crave. Thus, our aesthetic taste tells us what we lack inside as much as what we like inside.

Take for instance a person who is attracted to grand, ornate and gilt furniture. While we might assume such furniture would be desired by the well-off, it is actually quite the opposite. Such style is generally not favored by people who feel rich inside, but by people trying to flee poverty and humiliation.

Likewise, people with a minimalist aesthetic (De Botton gives the example of architect John Porcin) often indicate that a person isn’t calm inside but is oppressed by fear of disintegration and panic.

Or consider — most interesting to me in light of this recent post — people who favor the rustic, pretending to be a simple country folk. De Botton postulates that the excessive modernity and ubiquitous technology in our life leave us longing for qualities of the old and rural.

Diversity of style is a natural consequence of the manifold nature of our inner needs, he says. The two great dogmas of aesthetics — that there is only one acceptable style, or that all styles are equally valid — are both equally preposterous.


About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

3 Responses to How could anyone like that?

  1. Pingback: Realism or Abstraction: Why does it have to be one or the other? « The Aesthetic Elevator

  2. Pingback: JBU Gallery: Auction for St. Francis « The Aesthetic Elevator

  3. Pingback: Architecture and personal aesthetics « The Aesthetic Elevator

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: