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Ethics and Aesthetics - Simone Casu

Insights on Future Developments of the Aesthetics of  the New Spirituality

By Simone Casu


What do ethics have something to do with aesthetics?
Let's step back in time and imagine the educated natives of Athens 2,500 years ago.
We discover that ethics and aesthetics are different concepts for us but for them are one and indissoluble.
The word kalón, which we translate as "beauty," had a broader meaning then than at present; it encompassed not only what was pleasing to the eye and ear, but also the character and quality of the human mind, moral and ethical qualities.

The ancients kept separated the  sphere of  "beauty" from art because they bestowed an ontological foundation to beauty, which can be found in all things in the universe, from natural to social manifestations. In art, they considered the body  of man and woman the noblest and highest among natural beings. Precisely for this supremacy, man is able to express his beauty, not only in the proportion of physical forms but also in the dignity of practical behavior: hence the strong link between beauty and goodness that in classical Greece found its supreme expression in the formative idea of kalokagathia, the condition of one who knows how to be and constitutes at the same time beauty and goodness.

Kalogathòs, combines the words kalós, beauty, which is physical beauty with the inevitable erotic and sensual aura that accompanies it, and agathós, good, which is the moral aspect combined with the nuances of social life and fashion.

“Beauty” was thus a concept from very rich and complex meanings that can be summarized into three fundamental characteristics:
1. harmony, detectable cosmic balance;
2. symmetry, or repetition of the same or similar elements;
3. eurhythmy, or rhythm and correct proportions.

This is well expressed in the concept of kósmos which refers to the beauty of an object derived from the perfection of its structure due to the proportion of its parts.
In the field of verbal arts, as referred by Homer, the concept of the kósmos is connected to harmony and coherence.
These Greek thinkers! But perhaps their ideas were not just about beauty but something more complex and profound, to which perhaps we are returning.
Another foundation of aesthetics of the past is given by the vision of St. Thomas, who says, “Ad pulchritudinem trìa requiruntum integritas, consonantia, claritas”.  This can be translated to, “There are three conditions of beauty - integrity, harmony and splendor.”
And this one will be amazed in front of these majestic visions.

Integrity, a characteristic of beauty, is in fact a term that usually refers to ethics, it is said that a person is of moral integrity. The radiance, splendor or claritas instead is associated with something that lives in motion where there is time element. The time that light needs to reach the periphery from the source. Perhaps a constructive and creative light, through which things are formed.
Beauty is therefore a motion, an act, like the human intentionality and not a static model, an act of will that St. Thomas attributed to God.
God, with the act of love that is the creation according to St. Thomas, has made the creatures “beautiful” and chaos became cosmos, is a reflection of his beauty, so all his creatures, including the superb man,  comprise his beauty from which arise in man his desire to love him and join him. Here then is beauty, like ethics it is a tendency, an act towards an object, exactly as the human consciousness that launches continuously mental “acts” that can not be separated from the “objects” to which they are addressed.
Thus, beauty was not just an object, but an act, a tendency towards an abstraction of all perfect and idealized.

For St. Thomas, the art work itself is neither moral nor immoral, it becomes only if it helps man in his completion or his distraction. In that sense there will be “formal” beauty which focuses only on superficial beauty and “holistic” beauty which includes both beauty and goodness.

An interesting insight that today we can say holistic or integrated,  that wants to elevate at an aesthetic level all the right things and vice versa.
In fact, this ethical conception of beauty is deeply rooted in our culture, we say that a vulgar, violent or arrogant person is “ugly” or if with a gesture of compassion and virtue is said to be “beautiful”.
But let’s go back to our days, what has happened in the modern era. In the romantic current, at the start of the 18th century, the sublime, ecstatic, transcendent experiences become new models of living which refer to the search for beauty. Beauty is the result of a feeling, a feeling rather than an idea - or mathematical geometry model - as it was in ancient and medieval times, just remember, for example the use of the golden proportion in artistic composition.

Harmony for the romantics extends to relationship with nature and its feeling is the measure of all things, such that beauty becomes close to a feeling, rather than an organization of elements.
The existential feeling of romantic aesthetics influenced all throughout the successive arts and emphasized the individual and subjective component of beauty.
It went on in this manner and then continued to grow and closed within itself, creating the myth of the misunderstood and suffering artist. The feeling so detached from a collective aesthetic model that could serve as a reference, its condition of previous eras, it becomes more fragile and volatile. So even the hideous, the vulgar, the bad, the insane, the tragic and the empty could be charged with aesthetic values as “exciting”. This individual sentimentality could be so accurate to become solipsistic, basically closed to the world or even opposed to it.

The extreme tip of this phenomenon can be reached in affirming and believing that the work of art is that as the result of individual artistic act, so that even a latrine can be art as "baptized" by the artist.
What is certain is that if you use a word, like love or freedom to justify a war, these two concepts that are carriers of specific and powerful energy charges, disintegrate confusing registers related to them.

How can one word describe such opposite phenomena?

How can an “ugly” become beautiful? In doing so, they raped art, which had always been a point of reference for aesthetics, aesthetics as a result, has become pure surface stripped of its moral and its structural compactness that wanted all that was good and just as “beauty”. Although the corruption of beauty was already in place, in the stale repetition of models we now call commercial art, it is through the conceptual reversal that the most compromising transformation occurs.

To compensate the disintegration of holistic beauty, formal beauty is trying to replace the void created through commercialization and scientific justification.  A beauty-rendered  merchandise is mechanized obtained by producing large scale industrial objects all equally, linked to consumerism and fashion, wherein the massive aesthetic models are standardized and administered through the use of psychological manipulation and mass media.

On the other hand, there is a beauty scientifically justified given that modern sciences including psychology, neurology and physiology, search for the psycho-physiological root of beauty, confusing the concomitants and the pleasant physiological phenomena as the main reason of beauty. The sensualist beauty goes mechanizing as a reactive consequence to a stimulus, making the passive spectator who is nothing more than a receiver of stimuli and not a creative active part in the construction of beauty.

Beauty is no longer so at the center of art, philosophy, politics and economics. The ugly, an expression of violence, imposes its “aesthetics”. The appearance of arrogance, the kitsch, the trash and power. It’s not that history is not littered with these expressions, but certainly today we are a legacy of piles of trash. The centrality of profit has swallowed up ethics and here goes the ugly triumphant to substitute beauty, but unlike this (beauty), it becomes nothing but a meaningless caricature.

How do we restore beauty and goodness in the center of our lives?

For us, in the Institute ESTETRA, as long as it is possible to make a profound change of the past as it is necessary to understand what happened and why nihilistic aesthetics came triumphant.

As a first question, have we asked ourselves:  How come in history ethics and aesthetics were found side by side only to become indistinguishable?

We found out that they occupy the same space in humans, and the categories of beauty and ugliness are a whole series of records common to the moral and ethical categories of good and righteous.

Remember the Greek and medieval characteristics? Here, with a survey we tried to expound and with a game of free associations (for contrast and similarity), and we came up with this table.


















































It is clear that ethics and aesthetics are not just concepts but experiences that are in the same are of the register, and that is why we currently use the terms beautiful and ugly for a wide variety of phenomena.
In the second analysis we tried to understand what differentiates ethics from aesthetics, and we realized that though corresponding to the same “space of register”, each arrive through different channels.
What' happens differently with the aesthetic “channel” with respect to that of ethics?

The ethics channel is mainly analytical less immediate and intuitive while aesthetic channel is fast, intuitive and sensitive.
I want to give you an example. It is said that Einstein used to identify how accurate or inaccurate the calculations of his students by reading them, and without even demonstrating identified them as ugly and thus inaccurate.
The brilliant Indian mathematician Ramanujan Srinivasa Aaiyangar  is said to have drawn hundreds of correct mathematical formulas but he published only a small part of what for him represented the thoughts of God. When asked how he managed to identify those which were the result of the thoughts of God he replied that it was expressed through beauty.

Even in physics today we have a concept of an Elegant Universe, and it is realizing that the aesthetic factor goes beyond the mere sensual superficial perception.

We then examined other characteristics of holistic beauty, and the most surprising - contrary to what many now think - is this: that it is impossible to get through mechanical means. Beauty is a mystery, unique and unrepeatable; beauty is essentially free, not different from us, human beings, who grasp and form the inner nature.
We came to this conclusion because we experienced that it is impossible to break down beauty to its basic elements that can be done for example with a car.
We can not say that to make a work of art a square, a circle, a little color, or the seven musical notes and a few chords are enough...

Remember this ad?
In this case we see how power has always tried to steal the contents of the profound aesthetic channel. In this case we say without falling into deception that the advertised product is only wheat and water and nothing profoundly aesthetic, it is only pasta a result of a technical ability that they want to raise as art.

It follows that the aesthetic vision is a holistic vision, and perhaps it is a coincidence that St. Thomas the connoted such characteristic. It is said that beauty has the same root as ecstatic. Aesthetic etymologically means “capable of feeling” while ecstatic means “to go out from one’s self” ability to identify and enter into communication with the divine.

As you can immediately grasp, the two moments are inseparable in structure, or ecstasy is a consequence of aesthetics, a feeling beyond one’s self.

In summary, holistic beauty can not be reproduced mechanically and connects with the Profound and the Sacred.

However, what is reproducible is certainly formal beauty. It can be broken down into its parts and rebuild practically as you wish.
Holistic beauty is not the sum of the elements, but a new dynamic and living structure. It is unique and unrepeatable, just as anything that is not mechanical.
In fact, if today we paint and try to imitate Monet this expression would not be coming from the Profound rather it would be a copy. The gaze is directed outward and nothing else. It's like when we try to be someone else, as we try to imitate we’ll just be an expression mask, a kind of psychological suicide.
Who cares that people do not feel, who cares that people do not create, for they will carry on schemes imitating external models, they will do everything possible to control this profound and holistic aesthetic channel.

It is not surprising if those who manipulate the “aesthetic taste” manipulate the consciousness in a more profound manner more than we think. That is why every power has put its hands on aesthetics immediately. All power has sought to exploit the aesthetic wave that is given in different areas and eras.
The concept is simple; anything or any immoral content is purified if it is beautiful. We trust beauty as we trust Mother. And Mother can not hurt us.

If it is a pleasant form, people will be open and sensible to take on certain contents. Simple and effective. It's like putting sugar on syrup or deodorant in the bathroom. It conceals and covers something that they would want us to swallow.
These are the older models through which aesthetic channel try to manipulate the consciousness profoundly.

What can give us a true New Aesthetic?

And here comes what they have been trying to keep us away from, to exclude aesthetics.
The only thing that can rescue formal beauty is to make it holistic and ETHICAL.
Holistic aesthetic, or as we define it in ESTETRA Institute, the aesthetics of Transcendence is inseparable from the ethical component, and it is a manifestation of a very high sensibility and attraction toward inner and social coherence.

Let’s imagine a future where this new aesthetic capacity would have been developed. One comes who wants to cheat you, manipulate you, and you do not even bother to listen. You look and see that it is ugly, that's all. Like our politicians and squires. In doing so we have an edge. We have a way of looking, feeling and being in the world, profoundly aesthetic. So the new generation are already doing, they look at you and they know that you want to cheat them.

They recognize coherence and non-violence through an ideological framework, that of ethics, but aesthetics.

But what can be done to develop this ethical-aesthetic sensibility?

Well, we have many suggestions to give because this is what we are dealing with in our didactics, but we can summarize it in a few simple ideas:
1. through profound meditation on one’s self and the world
2. Through contact with the sacred within us and in the world
3. Through non-violent action in dealing with ourselves as good friends and in relating to others as our brothers

Coherence in thought, feeling, and action and moving in harmony, eurhythmy, thus creating proportion and generating luminosity.

And that you can not get mechanically but reaching that particular state of consciousness where every holistic aesthetic comes from, that particular state of inspiration fundamental in art.

Silo speaks of an Inspired Consciousness as a particular state in which we can understand more the meaning of life, and from that point deep inside each of us that the New Aesthetic will be born.

Finally, I would like to end with a simple phrase of the great and sensitive poet and playwright Bertolt Brecht that brings together ethics and aesthetics.

“All artforms are in the service of the greatest of all arts: the art of living”

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