To my everlasting shame, I think I just spent a moment looking at my latest English Bay pictures and might even have let out a sigh of satisfaction. Then of course I froze, having been given a taste of what Marcel Pagnol called "flagrant délit d’humanité" – I caught myself in the act of being human, hence weak. There’s nothing wrong with being happy with my own work now and then, I reasoned. But there might be something wrong if I fail to realize the futility of it.
So after a thoughtful episode, I have bad news for some of us, especially those who own pieces of art worth millions of dollars. For reference, Andreas Gursky, the German photographer I was writing about recently, is famous for holding the world record for the highest price paid at auction for a single photographic image; a few years ago, somebody, somewhere, decided to pay 3.3 million US dollars for one of his large prints!
Because you see, it would seem that beauty is a scam, and art along with it. A great, masterful illusion conceived and perfected by the human mind in order to make our earthly existence more bearable. The very fact that we observe our universe defines it, quantum physics has shown that. However, we must be lucid enough to understand that none of our very subjective beauty criteria truly exist out there. The fact is there are no such things as colors. Nor is there anything like shape, or texture. No sounds. No smells. And hence, no beauty.
The above qualities only exist in our intellect as a translation by our senses of the universe, adjusted through our imagination and tweaked for cultural standards. Think about it, a dog must see something when looking at a Picasso, but it certainly wouldn’t call it beautiful. (Well, I wouldn’t, either.) Every creature on earth sees or perceives a completely different universe. None is more real than the other. In fact, none are real, period.
In the end, the only beauty is in the way our brain is able to decode essential physical data and output a rendering of it that creates a tangible and comforting reality and accepts subjective criteria such as size, time, quality and beauty.
My pictures might look good to me one day, and bad another. They might always look bad to you. Or someone might buy one of my prints for millions of dollars (wishful thinking.) But in the end, they are just a paradox: a material representation of something that is immaterial. Atoms representing other atoms.
English Bay didn’t exist more that night than it does right now. The universal substance it is made of was there all right, a fluid quantum soup as some call it, but nowhere in its atoms and particles does it mention a bay and calm water and boats and a park. They are just particles, energy as potential and probability.
The rest is our creation, our rendition. So instead of judging the beauty around us, maybe we should look inwards and assess the beauty within. Because that’s where it all starts, and where it all ends.