I am guessing this will not come as much of a surprise to anyone but me. As I was digitizing the majority of my design and architecture clips—all 400 of them—during the past few days it occurred to me that my twenty-year career as a journalist and author has been focused around the subject of beauty.
Saxon Henry Design Writer
As the images transcended the scanner bed, morphing almost magically onto the monitor, I recognized just how much time I’ve spent investigating the particulars of the perfectly designed space, the aesthetics of exemplary architecture and the precision of product design. I was also reminded of all of the incredibly talented people I’ve had as collaborators in this effort—from astute editors and art directors to brilliant web designers and accomplished photographers (a number of whom I am thrilled to say have become very close friends and long-term colleagues).
Today, I begin an exciting new project as I conduct my first interview for a monthly column I will be crafting for Architizer called “The Emotionality of Architecture.” Drumroll, please: I have the privilege of visiting the New York studio of Daniel Libeskind and interviewing the visionary architect! I will feature him in October in my debut piece exploring the emotionality of architecture, and I am tremendously excited (okay, and a tiny bit intimidated) to have the opportunity to speak with him about this subject. Thank you Paul Clemence for sparking the idea of including him in my line-up.
Plotinus on Beauty
As I was journaling this morning about this afternoon’s expedition and my review of the articles and books I’ve penned over the years, I thought of all of the passionate explorers who have tackled the subject of beauty in their writings through the ages. One of my favorite touchstones is Plotinus’s Enneads, which he wrote in the third century (AD).
The first Ennead contains the “Sixth Tractate” devoted entirely to the subject. “What, then, is it that gives comeliness to material forms?” he asks as he questions whether there is one principle from which all grace derives. It’s staggering to think of the number of philosophers, designers, architects and writers who have devoted untold hours of exploration to the questions he posed so long ago.
It was a reading of The Cantos of Ezra Pound that first inspired my own consideration of beauty as a subject worthy of serious contemplation when I came across a refrain the poet attributed to Aubrey Beardsley. The phrase “beauty is difficult” first appears in Cantos LXXIV and a version of it resurfaces in Cantos LXXX when Pound relates a conversation between William Butler Yeats and Beardsley.
The idea that someone could consider such a subject as anything but serene made my mind explode! Yeats records the comment in his Memoirs, writing, “Mr. Beardsley created a visionary beauty in Salome with the Head of John the Baptist, but because, as he told me, ‘beauty is the most difficult of things,’ he chose in its stead the satirical grotesques of his later period.”
These works may have been considered “horrors” in their time, as he goes on to note, but when we look back at the Art Nouveau age, Beardsley’s work is still celebrated as alluringly illustrative of the era. I confess I could go on for quite a while, and I will be returning to this subject soon without doubt, but duty calls and it is time to make my way to lower Manhattan.
Le Corbusier Towards a New Architecture
In closing, I celebrate this afternoon’s excursion with an architect’s thoughts on beauty. Le Corbusier, who wrote so passionately on the subject in Towards a New Architecture, provides the perfect finish: “The architect, by his arrangement of forms, realizes an order which is a pure creation of his spirit; by forms and shapes he affects our sense to an acute degree and provokes plastic emotions; by the relationships which he creates he wakes profound echoes in us, he gives us the measure of an order which we feel to be in accordance with that of our world, he determines the various movements of our heart and of our understanding; it is then that we experience the sense of beauty.”
The Diary of an Improvateur and this DesignLabs entry © Saxon Henry, all rights reserved. Saxon is an author, poet and journalist, as well as a contributor to Architizer. Her books include Anywhere But Here, Stranded on the Road to Promise and Four Florida Moderns.by