Where is beauty?

18 August, 2017

"Beauty is not a quality in things themselves; it exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty."

David Hume,  18th century philosopher

When we have a subjective feeling that something or someone is beautiful, does that feeling of beauty exist only within me?  Or does that beauty also exist within the person or architecture I am viewing?  So according to Hume, if I make a beautiful piece of architecture, it cannot be beautiful itself, the beauty is only ever within the people who admire it, and the people who admire this beauty, do it subjectively and have different versions of this appreciation of beauty within them.

This subject fascinates me because every day the Workshop attempts to convince employers and makers that our ideas are beautiful and that they should invest their time and money in those beautiful ideas.  They have to subjectively feel this beauty themselves in order to agree with us.  If beauty resides within them after they view our sketch or model, we've succeeded.  Our sketch or model is never beautiful itself.

If Hume is correct then when I tell someone they are beautiful, they are not really, the perception of beauty resides within me only.  If Hume is correct then someone somewhere will think Michelangelo's David is not beautiful.  Beauty is within the hands of the purchaser of architecture to believe in me and the Workshop that my subjectivity is correct.  But, if the thing I am trying to make is objectively beautiful to all men and women, then no architect will be required because the purchasing client would already know of its beauty and buy it directly.  Cut out the middle man.  Employers pay us for our subjective view and appreciation of beauty.  They do this because I and other Workshop members are experts in this field - we have had the experience and training that they have not, so our opinion on beauty is subjectively more refined than others.

When I first read David Hume's quote, I wanted beauty to reside within the architecture, so then everyone could appreciate it.  But now I am happy if beauty resides within the person only - because if they concur with us, then they will carry around the beauty of the architecture within their bodies forever through memory.  The perceived beauty of their new house in London will still be with them to recall on their holidays abroad.  That would make me a very happy Architect indeed, if the Workshop creates architectural beauty that our clients carry around with them for the rest of their lives.