Beauty and Effort

Spring break....and I find myself in central Texas, trying to convince my family members of a certain theory I have about beauty.  Or at least, that I've learned to have, as a result of living in Texas. The theory is that austere landscapes are actually appealing.  No, I didn't say "ugly" or "drab".  They're appealing because the mind has to actively work to make them appealing.  You see--it's easy to see beauty in a perfectly balanced Hawaiian beach scape.  Yeah yeah, white sand, aquamarine water, mountains in the background, lush green trees framing the beach.  Of course that's pretty.  But seeing the beauty in stark, arid, nuthin-much-there Texas--that takes effort.  So it's more satisfying. "Oh come on... " No really, I mean it!

The joy of effort is understood by movie makers who make movies frantically paced and hard to follow.  That's the point--to force the viewer into a pleasingly active state of mind. Ditto: logo makers.  Have you noticed that the "Starbucks" is gone from the Starbucks logo?  Now you and I can experience the pleasure of making just a tiny bit more effort to recognize the logo.

Alright, I won't multiply examples beyond necessity.  I've got a drab landscape to go out and --with a little effort--enjoy.


s. wallerstein said...

The "effort" theory doesn't work for my aesthetic experience, but it may describe that of others.

For me, associations are the key.

I would probably associate the ideal beach with the tourist industry (which I detest) and with being told too many times to appreciate the beauty of beaches. Thus, I would not find the beach beautiful.

On the other hand, the Texas landscapes might remind me of my favorite early Clint Eastwood Westerns, and thus, I might find them beautiful.

crystal said...

That reminds me of an article by Jonah Lehrer about reading that says ...

"the act of reading observes a gradient of awareness. Familiar sentences printed in Helvetica and rendered on lucid e-ink screens are read quickly and effortlessly. Meanwhile, unusual sentences with complex clauses and smudged ink tend to require more conscious effort, which leads to more activation in the dorsal pathway. All the extra work – the slight cognitive frisson of having to decipher the words – wakes us up."

Maybe that's true for looking at landscapes too?

Anonymous said...

Then again, bluebonnet season is coming up!

-- former (Central) Texan

Jean Kazez said...

Yes...we do have the bluebonnets. That's some effortless beauty!

Crystal--That's something I've realized more and more over time. A certain amount of complexity is actually appealing to the reader--which is disconcerting, because it's always been my goal to be clear, clear, clear.... Turns out readers actually like a bit of a struggle. Christopher Hitchens is a nice example of a writer who makes you struggle--run to the dictionary, read twice--to good effect.