A Little Essay on Beauty

by Manly P. Hall, January, 1935

Multicolored blue bird with wings spread.

Beauty is an elusive power, whose presence is an invisible asset, whose absence leaves a supreme need unfulfilled. It is a proper adjustment of parts, a reasonable synthesis of members, an order pleasing because it is proper.

Beauty has been defined as symmetry, or the harmony of form.

Beauty is not identical with an object nor with the grouping of objects. It is a spirit which is created by the proper bringing together of a number of parts which may not be necessarily beautiful in themselves but which produce a harmonious whole. Physical beauty is invoked by a consistent co-ordination of elements.

We may ask what is the criterion of consistency and, with Plotinus, we may say that the soul which is the criterion of consistency in man, rejoicing in beholding other natures harmonious to itself, becomes the determinator of beauty. The soul of man is rational. Rationality is simply beauty upon the plane of reason. Thus the rational soul, beholding other reasonable natures, rejoices in the similarity and hanse establishes the criterion of excellence.

In addition to the beauty of form we have beauty of sound, which is HARMONY; beauty of mode or tempo, which is RHYTHM; beauty of morality, which is VIRTUE; beauty of mind, which is INTELLECT; and beauty of spirit, which is the ultimate GOOD.

The Platonic Triad is the One, the Beautiful, and the Good, and the unity or wholeness of the world was erected upon this triangle. The One was the substance of all natures and beings; the Beautiful, the perfection of all natures and beings; and the Good, the utility of all natures and beings.

Without beauty the soul of the people cannot develop itself properly and sanely.

We say that a man must eat in order to live, Not only does he need physical food, but there is a metaphysical nature within him which must be fed with a superior sort of diet. The soul is fed through the eyes and the other sense perceptions. That which is grotesque or distorted is a poison to the soul; for, sensing the asymmetrical figure through the faculties, the soul suffer from the shock of the incongruity. The inner nature feeds upon environment and he who surrounds himself with beauty nourishes his aesthetic nature, without which he must fail as a rational creature.

Beauty is essential to human survival.

Deprived of its influence, man speedily deteriorates into a state of crassness and degradation. Plotinus declares the most worthy profession to be the service of the beautiful and that to destroy beauty was the most heinous of all crimes. Greece produced the most beautiful civilization the world has ever known by emphasizing the necessity of aesthetics and establishing beauty as one of the pillars of the state.

One of the great needs of our civilization is a greater emphasis upon aesthetic ideals to modify the extreme utilitarianism of our age and thus permit the survival of the subtler elements of culture.