Beauty in nature
Beauty in nature has long been a common theme in life and in art, and books emphasizing beauty in nature fill large sections of libraries and bookstores. That nature has been depicted and celebrated by so much art, photography, poetry and other literature shows the strength with which many people associate nature and beauty. Why this association exists, and what the association consists of, is studied by the branch of philosophy called aesthetics. Beyond certain basic characteristics that many philosophers agree about to explain what is seen as beautiful, the opinions are virtually endless.
Looked at through the lens of the visual arts, nature and wildness have been important subjects in various epochs of world history. An early tradition of landscape art began in China during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). The tradition of representing nature as it is became one of the aims of Chinese painting and was a significant influence in Asian art. Artists learned to depict mountains and rivers “from the perspective of nature as a whole and on the basis of their understanding of the laws of nature … as if seen through the eyes of a bird.” In the 13th century, the Song Dynasty artist Shi Erji listed “scenes lacking any places made inaccessible by nature,” as one of the 12 things to avoid in painting.
In the Western world the idea of wilderness having intrinsic value emerged in the 1800s, especially in the works of the Romantic movement. British artists John Constable and JMW Turner turned their attention to capturing the beauty of the natural world in their paintings. Before that, paintings had been primarily of religious scenes or of human beings. William Wordsworth’s poetry described the wonder of the natural world, which had formerly been viewed as a threatening place. Increasingly the valuing of nature became an aspect of Western culture. This artistic movement also coincided with the Transcendentalist movement in the Western world.
Many scientists, who study nature in more specific and organized ways, also share the conviction that nature is beautiful; the French mathematician, Jules Henri Poincaré (1854–1912) said:
The scientist does not study nature because it is useful; he studies it because he delights in it, and he delights in it because it is beautiful.
If nature were not beautiful, it would not be worth knowing, and if nature were not worth knowing, life would not be worth living. Of course I do not here speak of that beauty which strikes the senses, the beauty of qualities and of appearance; not that I undervalue such beauty, far from it, but it has nothing to do with science; I mean that profounder beauty which comes from the harmonious order of the parts and which a pure intelligence can grasp.
A common classical idea of beautiful art involves the word mimesis, the imitation of nature. Also in the realm of ideas about beauty in nature is that the perfect is implied through symmetry, equal division, and other perfect mathematical forms and notions.
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