Live an Aesthetic Life

Aesthetics

“Officially” speaking, Aesthetics is the branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of beauty and artistic taste. But you don’t have to be a philosopher to bask in the benefits of living an aesthetic life.

Simply having a sensitivity and appreciation for beauty is a good start.  Slow down; pause; observe.  Note and appreciate those things that give you pleasure and inner satisfaction when you experience them with your senses (sight, sound, smell, touch, taste).  What things appeal and resonate with you?  What ignites a passion and inspires you?  What calms and pauses you for contemplative reflection?

It could be numerous things:

  • Arts (visual) – paintings, prints, drawings, sculptures, ceramics, photography, architecture, metalwork, mixed media, textiles
  • Arts (performing) – music, drama, dance, film
  • Literature – novels and poetry that engage your sense of beauty, inspire and transport you
  • Design – interior, auto, architecture, fashion, engineering
  • Nature – trees, shrubs, flowers, streams, waterfalls, mountains, insects, animals, landscape gardens
  • Cuisine – savoring excellent food and drink in a pleasing ambience
  • Craftsmanship – appreciating well-executed creations of others
  • Science – beautiful discoveries that provide incredible aha moments

What gives you pleasure and inner joy?  Jot down some notes about any special aesthetic things that seem to “do it” for you.  Get a clear idea on what aesthetic elements really appeal to you and give you an innate satisfaction.

 

How to Adopt a Living Aesthetic

So, after considering the beautiful and appealing things that give you pleasure and inner satisfaction, what can you do about it?  So what?

How about you make an effort to surround yourself with those resonating aesthetics?

Why?  Because regularly experiencing the appreciation and pleasure from these beautiful things provides long term benefits for your life.  They can be a powerful influence for growth, fulfillment, happiness, inspiration, accomplishments, etc.  Your overall attitude about life is improved, versus someone that doesn’t identify with aesthetics in any way.

I found an excellent article that zeroes in on the importance of living an aesthetic life:

Benefits of Living the Aesthetic Life by Victoria Raynor

She really understands the importance of aesthetics!  Her vision mirrors my own regarding its influence on our lives.  Her article, while not lengthy, packs a powerful message.

Benefits of beauty and aesthetics she mentions include: it energizes body and spirit, invigorates us, gives instant pleasure; instills interest in our lives, gets us in touch with ourselves, enables the beautiful inside us, reduces stress, ignites creativity, improves mental health, gives us focus, provides calming relaxation and happiness.

I don’t see much of a downside . . .  do you?

And, as she points out . . . we don’t need to be an authority on art, beauty and aesthetics to identify something as pleasing to us. We’re our own judge. It’s our interpretation. We decide what’s beautiful for us; what resonates with our spirit.

So…. be an Aesthete by surrounding yourself with beauty and reap its benefits.

 

Some Ideas . . .

Immerse yourself in soul-satiating aesthetics – outfit your living and working space using elements that resonate with the pleasure points in your soul (furnishings, décor, music, lighting, artistic & intellectual artifacts, collections & curios).

I have what seems like innumerable interests and passions.  Some of these I use to enhance my living aesthetics.

Some examples from my personal life:

My home office & library:

  • I love Art Deco architecture, art and design so when I created my office I decorated it in that theme.
  • I also find beauty in those things that can ignite a sense of adventure and discovery – such as intriguing scientific and navigation instruments, historic artifacts, mysterious megalithic ancient archaeological sites, mythic lands, esoteric woodcuts and symbols. So various objects in my office library reflect these inspiring themes.

 

My garage:

  • Since I was a teen, I have an interest in building, restoring and mildly customizing cars of the 50s & 60s. Along with that hobby, I find appeal in 50s-era gas stations and streamline modern design. So, when tackling the project of refinishing my garage, I chose to do it in a retro-50s style.  Streamlined curved corners to the cabinets I built, which also have a retro Formica countertop and polished aluminum counter edging (like the old dining sets of the 50s and 60s). Matching pub table and retro stools. I decorated the garage with a 1955 Tokheim gas pump, a 1953 Westinghouse wall-mount telephone (restored and working), Texaco neon clock, as well as a lot of appealing retro tin signs on the walls.  Overall, it’s a 1950s Texaco gas station and workshop theme.

 

Our home:

  • My wife and I love to create a cozy, comfortable aesthetic for our home. Appealing furniture, colors and décor that evoke a wonderful and satisfying feeling for the time we’re there.
  • We recently refinished our basement and wanted a theme of Louisville (both the city and its history, as well as the University of Louisville where we’re both alumni). Along with that we wanted a bit of a pub/tavern feel.  We achieved that and did almost all the work ourselves.

 

Our home’s landscape gardens:

  • My wife and I both are passionate about immersing ourselves in a large variety of gorgeous public gardens. We’ve visited dozens over the years and these beautiful oases have inspired us to create our own “Elysium” to immerse ourselves and kindle our spirits.

 

Travel to-and-from work:

  • In a further effort to expose myself to as much beauty as often as possible, I make it a point to drive through Louisville’s Seneca and Cherokee parks both to and from work whenever I can. I avoid the interstate and busy secondary roads with lots of traffic lights and cars.  At the same time I play beautiful music in the car, opening my windows, feel the breeze – all of it taking me away from the stress of work and traffic, focusing instead on the beauty that relaxes and reduces stress.

 

Work Office/Cube/Desk:

  • To the extent possible, enhance your workspace with items that are beautiful and inspire you.

 

Social Activities:

  • Dine and drink at restaurants that have a pleasing ambiance. Choose something other than uninspiring and cold concrete floors, dull furnishings and drab décor.  Find places that call to your soul/spirit – even if in a small way.  Dining alfresco is a favorite of ours – selecting a location that has a satisfying patio with shade, plants, fountains and a decent opportunity for people watching.  In Louisville, O’Shea’s in the Highlands is one of our favorites. Europe’s street cafés are wonderful in this aspect too.  No wonder so many great writers, poets and artists found solace and inspiration at cafés and encouraging social atmospheres throughout Europe.

 

 

A Couple of Observations . . .

I find that living an aesthetic life drives Romanticism and vice versa. They build upon, compliment and feed each other.  There’s much in the way of overlap between the two. Both celebrate beauty. Beauty is the common core.

Also, some people feel you are either an intellectual or an aesthete, but not both. I disagree.  Ideas and discoveries can be beautiful too. And an appreciation of beauty can ignite the intellectual fires within us as well. We can celebrate both beauty and ideas – the best of both worlds.

 

In summary

Surround your life and living spaces with that which pleases your eye, delights you, mystifies you, engages you, impresses you, inspires you, satiates you, resonates with you, inflames your passion, engulfs you in warmth and beauty, gives you joy, triggers your creativity, evokes comfort, fires your intellect, sparks your curiosity, drives discovery, encourages adventure, instills satisfaction, reduces stress.

It doesn’t have to happen overnight, or all at once.  Create it over weeks, months, years, decades.

Think of this living aesthetic as a canvas of personal fulfillment and fire for your spirit.

Carpe diem!

🙂

 

“It is art that makes life, makes interest, makes importance, for our consideration and application of these things, and I know of no substitute whatever for the force and beauty of its process.”
– Henry James

 

“It is through art, and only art, that we can realize our perfection.”
– Oscar Wilde

 

 

 

Sources:

 

 

As with any sourcing on the internet, links can go ‘dead’ after a time. If you find the above-mentioned links no longer working, try the WayBack Machine:  http://archive.org/web/web.php    It’s sometimes a good way to pull up and view websites that are no longer active.

 

 

 

Wonder: From Emotion to Spirituality by Robert C. Fuller

A little over a year ago I listened to a podcast on ArtOfManliness.com entitled The Power Of Wonder wherein Brett McKay interviewed the author of a book (Robert Fuller) on the topic of Wonder.  It was particularly interesting since this topic fascinates and inspires me and it’s difficult to find references of any kind on the subject. (Not to mention that it’s the titled-focus of this web site.)  So after listening to the podcast I ordered the book.

The formal book title is: Wonder: From Emotion to Spirituality.  The author’s professional vitae reflects his major focus on religion – which the book did indeed address. However, I’m extremely appreciative of the fact that he was able to treat this subject with a broader secular approach it so deserves.

“Wonder is what sets us apart from other life forms. No other species wonders about the meaning of existence or the complexity of the universe or themselves.”
– Herbert W. Boyer

 

What is Wonder?

At the time of the publication of the book (2006) the Oxford English Dictionary defined wonder as:

The emotion excited by the perception of something novel and unexpected.

 

The current Oxford English Dictionary definition is:

A feeling of amazement and admiration, caused by something beautiful, remarkable, or unfamiliar.

 

A working definition noted within the book is:

The feeling state that accompanies the total organism’s response to something novel and unexpected (especially those things that strike us as especially powerful, real, true and/or beautiful.)

 

Throughout the book the author mentions many attributes of wonder.  The main components of wonder include:

  • Surprise
  • Bewilderment
  • Astonishment
  • Amazement
  • Perplexity
  • Admiration

Mr. Fuller notes that in searching the indices of his personal library of psychology books published in the last 100 years, he could not find a single mention of “wonder.”  It’s a rare emotion that is difficult to reproduce in a laboratory environment, so it’s rather ignored.

Over and over in the book, and even the podcast, he continually alludes to wonder being driven by powerful experiences of Beauty, Vitality and Truth. He also mentions Beauty, Order and Vitality although I’m not exactly clear what he means by “order.”  Perhaps he means order and harmony in the universe and nature? I really like this reference to powerful experiences of Beauty, Vitality and Truth. It resonates with me.    🙂

What things typically produce wonder?  Nature, Beauty, Music, Art, Science, Discovery, People, Love, Life, Mathematics, Geometry, Religion and Metaphysical Mysteries.

I think another significant cause of wonder is also Knowledge Adventuring.  Researching, questioning and uncovering heretofore little-known facts that leap out at you; smacking you in the face with a realization of awe and wonder about the ramifications and truth of that knowledge. As the author states, powerful displays of Truth can be a cause of wonder.

 

Wonder vs. Awe vs. Curiosity vs. Interest

An interesting element of the book were many excerpts from various sources and the author’s own thoughts to differentiate between various emotions that are easily confused with, or closely related to, wonder.

Awe – Actually….almost every mention of awe in the book is always listed in conjunction with wonder….. i.e. “awe and wonder.”  As already admitted, wonder is rarely the subject of written psychology texts, but apparently awe is even less defined – at least when it comes to distinguishing it from wonder.  It was not clear in the book as to the difference.  When awe was mentioned the typical attributes were: the presence of God; a religious experience; dread; terror; intimidation; vastness of the universe and life; the unknown and maybe unknowable.  In one instance, a source of his states that “wonder generates awe.” Interesting. Perhaps it should be that awe generates wonder?

Curiosity – Mr. Fuller spends some time discussing curiosity and how this is a more active emotion than wonder (which is said to be passive).  Curiosity is summarized as an attempt to analyze, understand and even manipulate the events and objects of our environment. It involves inquiries into the causal workings of physical reality.

Wonder – As opposed to curiosity wonder is a more passive emotion.  It has more to do with cognitive reflection and contemplation about unexpected perceptions. Reflecting on how the various parts relate to a greater whole. It induces receptivity and openness and causes us to consider life and its meaning from broader perspectives. How do we relate to the world?  How do we relate to others? What is possible? Is there a purpose in the universe? Where does existence come from? Like interest, it drives long-term constructive and creative endeavors. It has intrinsic value to the individual. Wonder causes us to philosophize.

Interest – How is interest different than curiosity and wonder? The author and his referenced sources aren’t particularly clear about this.  On the one hand he says that, like wonder, heightened interest “animates and enlivens the mind” and lures us into “constructive and creative” engagement with our surroundings. It “focuses attention” and readies us for “engagement and interaction.” It’s closest to wonder in terms of its effect on motivation.  However, as much as he relates it to wonder, it sounds like it’s more active than wonder – akin to the active emotion of curiosity rather than passive wonder.

I think all these positive emotions are beneficial to us.  It’s quite difficult to split hairs about the subtle differences and nuances among the four.  And to the non-academician – – does such bifurcation really matter?

Awe, wonder, curiosity, interest . . . .  the important aspect to register in our lives is the tremendous effect these have to enrich us SO far beyond the mundane.  What exactly are the benefits and effects of wonder and its related emotions?

 

Benefits and Effects of Wonder on Your Life

Without a doubt these incredible emotions bring enriching positives to the lives of anyone who will entertain them. The book has continual and profuse references to the benefits of experiencing wonder in our life.  It . . .

  • enriches our existence
  • produces personal fulfillment
  • stimulates growth
  • excites our imagination
  • enhances our seeking
  • invigorates us
  • provides a fresh approach to life
  • frees us of environmental conditioning
  • enables our self-direction
  • imbues the world with an alluring quality
  • engages us in self-examination
  • produces a mindful awareness of the world
  • awakens our higher-order thought
  • initiates abstract thinking
  • animates and enlivens the mind and body
  • induces us to pause, admire, and open our hearts and minds
  • kindles a reverence for life

Amazing.  Yet, the vast majority of humanity has no concept of wonder or its benefits. They meander through life impressed by nothing.

“And thus although you can surely go through life without a developed sense of wonder, it is equally true that a life shaped by wonder is attuned to the widest possible world of personal fulfillment.”
– Robert Fuller

 

Religion vs Spirituality

While Mr. Fuller comes from an academic role focused on religion – as I mentioned – he does a good job of sharing wonder in relation to both its religious and secular aspect.

One area where I cannot agree with Mr. Fuller is his claim that religious rituals and doctrines evoke wonder in people. I can understand his claim (since I presume he has a lifetime of indoctrination via many years of formal religious experience) . . . . however, even before I was a heretic, I did not find doctrine and ritual fascinating or wonderful in any way.  Years of being a Catholic, or later, a born-again Christian did not help this claim.  Unless one is ready to abandon every filament of their rational being, rituals overtly come across as inane, meaningless and manipulative; the antithesis to wonder.

As a student in Catholic elementary school I thought First Communion, Confirmation and May Procession rituals all certainly interesting, but even then, they couldn’t hold a candle to to the magic of hiking along the creek in the woods with my father. Nature rules over doctrine. Period.

Even outside of formal religion, rituals and doctrine of fraternal organizations such as Freemasonry (I was a member for a few years) are equally inane and meaningless. I could not perceive benefits or wonder of any kind beyond the fact that I was wasting valuable hours of my life experiencing silly play-acting that was somehow supposed to be mysterious and special to its participants, but which lost its true esoteric meaning and importance long, long ago.

One area I do agree is his references to various people’s connection with spirituality as it relates to nature.  Somewhere in the book he mentions it as “religious naturalism.”  I think a better term would be “spiritual naturalism.”  From my perspective the only god I ever see (if there is one) is a deistic god of nature – – nature as god.

I’ve experienced numerous occasions where I was brought to disbelief, awe, wonder and tears of joy by the sheer majesty and mystery of nature…..NEVER by anything related to orthodox religion.

 

Can Man-made Objects Cause Wonder?

Another area where I find disagreement with the author is his claim that wonder is less likely to be caused by human-made artifacts.

For anyone with even a crude understanding and appreciation of engineering and construction capabilities, there’s a myriad of man-made structures that simply leaves a viewer with slack-jawed awe and wonder.  From monstrous bridges, buildings, palaces, cathedrals, ships, statues, and huge sculptures a viewer is left dumb-struck as to how such edifices and artistic expression could possibly have been erected using the technology of the day.

The most incredible examples of this mind-blowing awe and wonder in human achievement are the innumerable ancient structures around the world built with megalithic blocks of stone. Incredible behemoth stones were quarried, lifted, transported, lifted again, finished and fitted with space-age precision – supposedly with crude tools that could not have accomplished the task at hand. Unless you possess at least a basic understanding of engineering you wouldn’t give these structures a second thought. But if you do have the capacity to see the engineering impossibilities staring you in the face, you can’t help but stand in utter disbelief and awe at the accomplishments of these ancient civilizations.

This is an example of the benefit of “knowledge adventuring” wherein we dig, educate and discover facts not previously known or admitted within the paradigms of orthodox historians.

In a similar vein, one has to simply visit the incredible structures of castles, palaces and cathedrals of Europe to be instantly in awe at the fantastic engineering, art and architecture employed. You can stand in these edifices and simply be blown away by the sheer size and complexity of their structure and artistry.  How did they accomplish it?  How did they cut, move and precisely fit these stones several hundred feet in the air when modern cranes did not exist? It’s absolutely amazing to wonder and admire these accomplishments.

Human-made artifacts aren’t likely to produce wonder?  Think again.

 

Wonder Generates Awe?

As noted above, Mr. Fuller’s book attempts to differentiate between awe and wonder, and states at one point that “wonder generates awe.”  I cannot agree.  In fact, it should be just the opposite.  Awe generates wonder.  One follows from the other; clear and simple.

When we’re exposed to a gorgeous vista, the limitlessness of the cosmos, the incredible beauty of the world around us, the mind-blowing engineering involved in constructing the world’s most impressive edifices . . .  we can’t help but be dumb-struck with awe. . . .gobsmacked by the object and beauty before us.

As I see it, these emotions progress and are triggered thus:

Awe = Gobsmacked by an experience or object.

Wonder = Reflection on the gobsmacked awe, beauty and impressiveness of what we just experienced. Philosophizing on the larger questions of how and why these incredible things are even in existence. How did they come to be?

Curiosity & Interest = The actions we take as a result of the gob-smacked awe and its resulting wonder that drives us to learn, discover, understand, assimilate and integrate the mysteries of these events and objects into our lives.

 

“Once the emotions have been aroused – a sense of the beautiful, the excitement of the new and unknown, a feeling of sympathy, pity, admiration or love – then we wish for knowledge about the object of our emotional response. Once found, it has lasting meaning.”
– Rachel Carson

 

Closing Thoughts

I think an interesting study (if it could even be done) is whether people who lack a sense of wonder about the world can possibly re-develop that sense. I’m not sure. We lose much of our wonder and our senses are dulled into the mundane by years of schooling, work and cultural conditioning.

The only hope, perhaps, would be for individuals to step back away from the cultural paradigms and social conditioning and begin asking questions about those “givens.”  To be Walking Question Marks. To dig, discover, appreciate and enculture an open and awakened mind (Knowledge Adventuring). As a natural progression during this pulling away from the normal and mundane, a person will also gradually stop taking beauty, life and truth for granted. Then wonder can take hold again.

I encourage anyone to wonder about the world all around you. Pursue beauty, life and truth. Enrich your lives with the benefits produced by a sense of wonder.

 

“In wonder you realize that this is it. You have the opportunity to swim through the river of life rather than just float on it, to own your life rather than be owned by it”
– Juan De Pascuale

 

 

 

Sources:

 

As with any sourcing on the internet, links can go ‘dead’ after a time. If you find the above-mentioned links no longer working, try the WayBack Machine:  http://archive.org/web/web.php    It’s sometimes a good way to pull up and view websites that are no longer active.

 

 

 

 

El Escorial Library

Our trip to Spain this month found us visiting some incredible sites.  One of our notable visits (for me, at least) was the Monastery and Royal Palace of El Escorial in the town of San Lorenzo de El Escorial; specifically the Royal Library.

Biblioteca del monasterio de San Lorenzo de El Escorial, by Xauxa Håkan Svensson, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

The library consists of several rooms (most of them no longer used), however, only the Main Hall is opened to the public.  Measuring 177 feet long, 30 feet wide and 33 feet high it’s one large, wondrous gallery of gorgeous woodwork, frescoes, globes, armillaries and books.  It was established as the Royal library by Phillip II when the palace/monastery was created in the late 16th-century.

The library is believed to have been finished about 1585.  It was the first large-room library to use the “wall system” of book storage – where the bookshelves sit flush, lined up along the walls. Prior to that, libraries used lecterns or stalls to hold and store large folios. The initial 4,000 volumes came from Philip’s personal library, as well as additional books and manuscripts belonging to the Crown but kept elsewhere.

Books were purged over the centuries, particularly by a fire in 1671, but the library still maintains about 40,000 volumes including a number of Latin, Greek, Hebrew and Arabic manuscripts.

The library was designed by architect Juan de Herrera. The Herrera-designed bookcases were built by José Flecha, Juan Senén and Martín de Gamboa. The frescoes were painted by Pellegrino Tibaldi based on a theme defined by Father José de Sigüenza. You can see the influence of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel paintings in these Tibaldi works.

The themed friezes are anchored at each end of the hall by semicircular tympanums; the northern end is Philosophy (acquired knowledge) and the southern end is Theology (revealed knowledge). In between the two, within the seven main panels on the ceiling, are representations of the seven subjects of the liberal arts: the Trivium (Grammar, Rhetoric, Dialectics) and Quadrivium (Arithmetic, Music, Geometry, Astronomy). Along the sides directly above the bookcases are images of significant historical figures and scenes corresponding to the liberal art designated on the ceiling above them.

Details about the frescoes:

The vault is occupied by personifications of the Liberal Arts and Sciences, painted di sotto in sù and surrounded by giants. In the lunettes are representations of individuals, from antiquity onwards, who had cultivated these disciplines. Scenes on the friezes refer to the trivium and quadrivium. Of the former, Grammar is represented by the School of Babylon and the Tower of Babel, Rhetoric by Hercules the Gaul and Cicero Defending Gaius Rabirius, and Dialectics or Logic by SS Ambrose and Augustine and Zeno of Elea Showing the Gates of Truth and Error.

Of the quadrivium, Arithmetic is represented by the Gymnosophists and Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, Music by Orpheus Rescuing Eurydice and David Playing the Harp before Saul, Geometry by the Death of Archimedes and the Priests of Egypt Dividing the Lands and Astronomy by the Solar Eclipse at Heliopolis after the Death of Christ and King Hezekiah Contemplating the Orbit of the Sun.

Philosophy on the north wall (the School of Athens with Zeno and Socrates) and Theology on the south (Constantine the Great at the Council of Nicaea) complete the programme as the basis and goal of knowledge. The upper library is decorated with a comprehensive series of portraits of saints, pontiffs, sages and artists.

Source:  https://el-escorial.com/el-escorial-decoration/

The books are shelved with their spines inwards towards the wall; the gilt-edged pages face outwards with the title written on them – ostensibly to protect the bindings from light and allow the pages to “breathe.”  The effect is quite impressive with gold shimmering at the visitor from within the shelves.

The center of the main hall has tables with a collection of maps, globes, astrolabes, and other scientific items – including an outstanding, huge armillary sphere built by Antonio Santucci about 1582. The world and celestial globes were made by Joan Blaeu about 1660. These items conveyed the scientific dimension that Philip II desired for his library.

I was mesmerized by the room’s beauty and grandeur; and was particularly enchanted by the frescoes and what/who they represented.  I was trying my best to discover the various historic figures’ names represented in all the panels on ribbons next to each.

The library fell into neglect after Philip II’s death in 1598.  There was also the aforementioned fire in 1671.  Philip V decided to create a national library in Madrid and therefore the El Escorial library discontinued any additions to its collections.  Finally, the library was reorganized and catalogued in 1885. Thank goodness it was saved and preserved. It’s a gorgeous and magnificent tribute to knowledge, discovery and beauty!

 

Photos from our visit . . . .

 

Some additional images from Creative Commons on flickr . . .

El Escorial – astronomy ball o’ fun” by Rebecca is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

 

la biblioteca en el monasterio de san lorenzo” by bob is licensed under CC BY 2.0

 

The Library at El Escorial” by John Keogh is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

 

 

 

Sources:

  • Jacques Bosser and Guillaume de Laubier, The Most Beautiful Libraries In The World (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2003), 188-197
  • James W.P. Campbell and Will Pryce, The Library: A World History (Chicago, The University of Chicago Press, 2013)
  • Carmen Garcia-Frias and Jose Luis Sancho, Guide – Real Monasterio de San Lorenzo de El Escorial (Madrid: Patrimonio Nacional, 2017), 28-32.
  • Jérôme Coignard, Manuel Jover and Jean-François Lasnier, The Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial (Connaissance des Arts), 36-39.
  • El Escorial Monastery, el-escorial.co
  • El Escorial, Wikipedia

 

As with any sourcing on the internet, links can go ‘dead’ after a time. If you find the above-mentioned links no longer working, try the WayBack Machine:  http://archive.org/web/web.php    It’s sometimes a good way to pull up and view websites that are no longer active.

 

 

 

Romanticism

 

What is Romanticism?

Ask anyone on the street what “Romanticism” is and you’re likely to get replies that include:  beautiful flowers, surprise gifts, elegant date nights, heartfelt love letters, tender gestures, etc. – – essentially, anything that generates romance between two people in a relationship.

While that concept is nice (and important) it isn’t the same definition of “Romanticism” as my focus in this article.

Specifically, I speak of Romanticism as a state of mind; an attitude or philosophy toward life, the world and the universe that ignites and maintains a passion for living. It is key to living an enriched life and regularly experiencing wonder and joy.

First, let me differentiate between the specifics of this mindset and the historical period commonly referred to as “Romanticism” (with a capital R). There are similarities.

 

The Romanticism Movement

As a response to the age known as The Enlightenment, artists and intellectuals from all over Europe responded (rebelled) against the rigid reason, order, rationalism and conventions of the period. The rebellion took the form of poets, authors, composers, artists, architects and philosophers embracing an approach to their craft that exalted various characteristics including:

  • Emotions, spontaneity, feelings & intuition
  • Imagination, originality and creativity
  • Nature and the Sublime
  • Beauty
  • Freedom/Liberty
  • Individualism and self-becoming
  • Glorification & Idealization of the Past
  • Heroism & hero-worship
  • Mysticism and the mysterious

This Romanticism “movement” occurred roughly between 1770 – 1870. It crossed over individuals of all political leanings (liberals, conservatives, radicals), as well as being embraced by theists and atheists alike.

Many (most) of it’s attributes apply as well to my current definition of “Romanticism” below . . . .

 

Romanticism as a State of Mind

So . . . This Romanticism period ended about 1870. Does that mean it can’t be experienced or made a focus of life in the modern world? Did it cease to exist across the Earth? Is it now taboo? Is it a fluke that anyone in this modern day should still experience and relish some or all of these attributes?

Throughout this web site whenever I mention “Romanticism,” I’m referring to a certain mindset or attitude that can (and does) embrace many of the same characteristics of the Romantic period practitioners. However, this frame of mind doesn’t require us to be world renown artists, writers or philosophers. It’s simply a personality trait that allows one to embrace and live life with joy, passion and gratitude – an enriched life. It’s a philosophy of life that can be adopted by anyone if they so choose. It comes from within you.

This mindset of romanticism allows us to see the beauty and wonder of the world everywhere; to be grateful and appreciate nuances and details so easily overlooked by the typical urban dweller.

The foci I see most vividly contributing to this modern romanticism include:

Adventure – Experience something (anything) beyond the day-to-day mundane. Get out of your couch-potato comfort zone. Savor the uniqueness of a different experience. Appreciate out-of-the-norm surroundings.

Beauty & Aesthetics – Appreciate and be grateful for elegant beauty wherever you find it (music, art, architecture, landscape gardens, decor, nature, human physiology, human behavior, etc.). Surround yourself at home with aesthetic elements that resonate and inspire you.

Freedom/Liberty – Free yourself from the social, cultural, religious and intellectual restraints imposed on you throughout the formal education and social indoctrination you experienced since birth.

Heroism & Idealism – Find real heroes and attempt to emulate their best qualities. Envision in your mind and heart an idealized reality/existence. What qualities of those heroes inspire you? Can you adopt any of their attributes?

Individualism & Self-expression – Be the best and unique self you can (or wish) to be. Continue to improve and self-learn. What would an idealized self and its associated life look like to you? Let that vision inspire you.

Discovery – Expand your horizons to experience and learn beyond the programming you received in school and your upbringing. There’s a universe of exciting knowledge out there for you to discover; be a Knowledge Adventurer.

Nature – Appreciate the beauty and mysteries of nature, whether grand or simple. Visit and envelope yourself in the world’s gorgeous nature-scapes: forests, mountains, gorges, waterfalls, streams, rivers, storms, snowfalls, plains, bays, glaciers, volcanoes, caves, cliffs, arches, desserts, sea-shores. Yet appreciate the simple wonders of nature too, such as a bee gathering nectar from a flower, or a bird nesting and feeding its young.

Building and creating – Create something . . . anything. Make it an expression of yourself. If you do have an interest in some craft or skill but don’t know how, then learn. There’s much to be gained from how-to websites and videos across the internet. Years ago (a mere two decades) you were stuck with trying to locate a book at a store to learn something new. Now the world’s knowledge and skills are shared on the web. Take advantage of that amazing gift.

History – Experience the magic and mysteriousness of all that came before:  relics, ruins, art, architecture; literature – all from decades, centuries and millennia past. Wonder about the people who produced it. What were they like? How did they accomplish it? Who were they? Could they have possessed knowledge and abilities beyond what we know? Ponder on the passage of time and what you may leave for the generations brought forth in the future.

Slow Down and Notice – Develop a heightened awareness of the world around you so you can experience all of the above. Wonder. Ask questions. Challenge mundaneness. Consider reality beyond existing paradigms. Appreciate what you may heretofore ignored.

Feel The Emotion – Get in touch with your emotions while experiencing all of the above. Allow yourself to feel and experience with your heart – a Romantic:  wondering, questioning, discovering, appreciating. Allow the feelings to fill your soul and mind.

 

Romanticism vs Realism

What about realism, empiricism, science, objectivism, rationalism, and their importance to providing an accurate picture of life? Aren’t they important to living a life of reality and practicality?

Sure. But . . . are the two mutually exclusive?

Romanticism:
feeling, emotion, intuition, imagination, wonder, amazement, gratitude, beauty, appreciation, heroism, idealization, history, creating, subjectivism

Realism:
truth, knowledge, understanding, reason, logic, rationalism, empiricism, objectivism

Certainly not.

We are led to believe that you must be one or the other. And usually it’s indicated that we are more tied to Romanticism in our youth, then more likely to move toward Realism as we age and mature. While this might be the general tendency in life, I have to disagree that they are mutually exclusive.

In fact, I believe that the most well-rounded and accomplished in the world possess qualities of both realms.  I would call it “Romantic Intellectualism.”

 

Let Romanticism Enrich Your Life (Romantic Living)

Treasure, savor, appreciate, relish, admire the entire breadth of these gifts of life. Experience gratitude – even the simplest of things. Feel alive – the energy and emotions of gratitude, satisfaction, delight, wonder, awe, passion, bliss, joy, ecstasy, excitement, enchantment.

Desire to rise and live beyond the mundane standards of the herd. Pursue and embrace the elegant over the mundane, the beauty over the ugly. Think of it as a Romanticist way of living – being a “Romantic” at heart.

Have a passion for life. Don’t let yourself plod aimlessly and without inspiration or passion. Seize life. Follow your passions. Make your life wonderful, and share its magic and wonder with those around you – family and friends. Make sure you live such that on your deathbed you have a sense of having truly lived.

Romanticism is wonder. And, no matter how much of a realist you are, there’s always room for Romanticism in your life.

🙂

 

 

 

Some decent sources:

 

As with any sourcing on the internet, links can go ‘dead’ after a time. If you find the above-mentioned links no longer working, try the WayBack Machine:  http://archive.org/web/web.php    It’s sometimes a good way to pull up and view websites that are no longer active.

 

 

 

Biltmore Library

One of my favorite places in the world is the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina.  It was built by George Washington Vanderbilt II, grandson of Cornelius “The Commodore” Vanderbilt. Completed and opened to friends and family during Christmas 1895, it’s the largest private residence in the United States, and is still owned by descendants of the family.

George Washington Vanderbilt by John Singer Sargent
Public Domain, Link

 

The “house” is a gorgeous châteauesque-styled mansion designed by Richard Morris Hunt on gloriously landscaped grounds designed by Frederick Law Olmstead.  Originally more than 125,000 acres and encompassing Mount Pisqah, the estate is now down to about 8,000 acres.

Biltmore Estate, Asheville, North Carolina, USA – by JcPollock, CC BY-SA 3.0

 

The three mile approach road, mansion, formal gardens and grounds are absolutely breathtaking and one has to pause in awe-and-wonder as to how such a magnificent and grand estate could possibly be located in the North Carolina countryside.  Arriving at the house proper you feel as though you’re on the grounds of a fantastic French chateau.

The mansion is FULL of incredible rooms, lush furnishings and exquisite art.  Its 175,000 square-feet houses 250 rooms, including 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, 3 kitchens, 65 fireplaces, winter garden room, billiard room, banquet hall, breakfast room, music room, smoking room, tapestry gallery, 2-lane bowling alley, gymnasium, and indoor swimming pool.  The specific focus for this article, however, is the spectacular two-story library.

 

Biltmore Library

George was a consummate autodidact, never attending college, yet pulled by a passion of intense reading and learning since his youth.  According to a journal he kept, between 1875 and his untimely death in 1914 he read 3,159 books – an average of 81 per year.

George’s passion was the pursuit of knowledge, learning and appreciation for the arts.  With the help of Richard Morris Hunt, he built this library as a testament to that passion.  The room houses about 10,000 of George Vanderbilt’s 23,000 volume collection.  The rest of the books are throughout the house and in storage.  He was known to read up to eight languages (as well as translating Sanskrit and Hebrew). Works in the collection date all the way back to 1561.

The two-story room is 53 x 72 feet and 27 feet high. Its volumes cover a range of favorite subjects close to George’s heart:  history, art, architecture, landscape design, forestry, nature, interior design, travel, literature, religion, philosophy, and foreign languages.

The incredible ceiling painting titled “The Chariots of Aurora” by Giovanni Pellegrini was obtained from the Palazzo Pisani (now the Conservatorio di Musica B. Marcello) in Venice, Italy. The sculptor Karl Bitter executed the wood mantle and andiron sculptures for the fireplace.

The second floor balcony of the library is accessed via a gorgeous spiral staircase.  To get from one side of the balcony to the other you have to pass behind the fireplace through secret doors above the mantle.

During the tour of the spectacular home, you’re only allowed into a small portion of the library near its entrance; the rest is roped off.  Still . . . it’s incredibly awe-inspiring!.  Every time I enter it from the Tapestry Gallery my soul is energized by the design, architecture and the wealth of knowledge and beauty on its shelves.

I yearn to peruse the library for hours, days and months; pulling volumes from the shelves and sitting in the rich sumptuousness of the room, reading, learning, absorbing, appreciating and succumbing to the treasures within.

Unfortunately you are not allowed to take photos of the interior during your tour, else I would share many.

Enjoy these images.  Thanks to all who choose to share your photos via Creative Commons!  You can also Google many other beautiful copyrighted images online.

 

This photo of Biltmore Estate is courtesy of TripAdvisor

 

2016 Biltmore Candlelight Christmas-36” by Hal McGee is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

 

Library inside Biltmore” by Chor Ip is licensed under CC BY SA 2.0

 

056 library” by mksfca is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

 

Library at the Biltmore” by Erin Johnson is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

 

2016 Biltmore Candlelight Christmas-32” by Hal McGee is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
(bust of George Vanderbilt by Scottish artist Mary Grant)

 

2016 Biltmore Candlelight Christmas-42” by Hal McGee is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

 

2016 Biltmore Candlelight Christmas-57” by Hal McGee is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
(mantle sculpture by Karl Bitter)

 

2016 Biltmore Candlelight Christmas-35” by Hal McGee is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
(doorway from the Library into the Den)

 

2016 Biltmore Candlelight Christmas-58” by Hal McGee is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
(Beautiful andirons by Karl Bitter)

 

Biltmore Estate Library” by Amy Meredith is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

 

Biltmore Estate Library” by Amy Meredith is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

 

 

Some decent sources:

 

As with any sourcing on the internet, links can go ‘dead’ after a time. If you find the above-mentioned links no longer working, try the WayBack Machine:  http://archive.org/web/web.php    It’s sometimes a good way to pull up and view websites that are no longer active.

 

 

 

SpaceX – Engineering and Technology Awe & Wonder

What an incredible achievement by private enterprise that inspires and strikes me with awe and wonder . . .

(video starts at 8:00 minute mark)

I just love the way SpaceX does their launch coverage: allowing a huge crowd inside mission control, young energetic people to describe what’s going on, people of both sexes working within mission control, and video cameras mounted everywhere showing you live what’s going on, before and throughout the actual launch.

It’s also extremely impressive how they display the capability of launching a large number of missions in such a short period of time. For instance: They’ve had five launches in just under two months, including this one.  They had eighteen launches in all of 2017!

What a remarkable company, employing accomplished engineers, technicians, specialists, etc! AMAZING. And this time . . . having some fun with it too by using Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster and Starman dummy as the payload to a Mars orbit. This is very inspiring and gives me goosebumps while watching – in total awe at the marvel of the engineering used – particularly the return and landing of the booster rockets. THAT is a fantastic accomplishment in and of itself.

Government-funded NASA could never match these type of accomplishments, nor the costs.

Total inspiration!

 

 

Awe & Wonder

A key part of an enriched life is to allow yourself to regularly experience a sense of awe and wonder.  Life without wonder is stale and mundane – a formula for restlessness, anxiety and outright depression.

Wonder is the first of all the passions.”   – Rene Descartes

What does “awe” and  “wonder” mean exactly?  Various definitions, Wikipedia entries and online articles define these concepts in a very sterile manner.  A lot of these like to split hairs about differences between the two concepts.  I’m less concerned with this type of definitional nitpicking and more interested in how they can inspire, provide joy and satiate the soul.

So what is it?  From my perspective, I see two essential elements that drive awe and wonder:

  1. Any element of nature, art, music, literature, science/technology or the spiritual/religious far enough outside our habitual familiarity (normality) that can cause us to be suddenly amazed, blown away, inspired, excited, astonished, reverent, emotional and appreciating.  The things that come to mind include grand & gorgeous vistas, mountains, waterfalls, starry skies, the immense universe, a magnificent storm, an extraordinary piece of art, marvelous music, etc.  It can even include a reaction of amazement, satisfaction and admiration noticing something simple such as a blooming flower or a spider and its intricate web – things that normally escape our notice but brings us back to a child-like appreciation and wonder.
  2. One element that I feel is sadly overlooked in most people’s minds when considering awe and wonder is something for which I can attest provides immense joy & satisfaction – knowledge discovery. Knowledge Adventurers have a definite opportunity to experience awe and wonder while uncovering heretofore unknown extraordinary facts and incredible truths (unknown, at least to ourselves and most culturally indoctrinated people).

We should love and embrace dazzling beauty. . . . aesthetics & literature . . . . human achievement . . . . a beautiful puzzling mystery . . . . as well as elegant thought.   Open our minds to experiencing new things . . . . elicit curiosity . . . . engage and enliven our senses . . . . allow ourselves to be inspired and uplifted . . . . to pause in life for contemplation of nature and reality . . . . feeling the joy in simple pleasures . . . . embracing a heightened state of consciousness . . . .

This infusion of joy and satisfaction doesn’t come without some effort on our part. We must be open to such experiences.  Spending our entire lives inside the office or sitting on the couch watching television will not produce awe and wonder.  Never questioning anything will not produce awe and wonder.  Never venturing beyond your normalcy and comfort zone will not produce awe and wonder.

We need to make it a point to get out in nature and truly appreciate its beauty and wonder.  Get out . . . . pause . . . . release your tension . . . . observe and notice the simple as well as the grand . . . . look at things in a new way . . . . don’t take anything for granted . . . . ask questions about what you see . . . look for new answers to old questions . . . . soak it up . . . . be curious . . . . be humble . . . . open your heart . . . . be like a child.

“The child is father of the man.”  – William Wordsworth

We wonder and awe constantly as a child. Unfortunately we go to school to have the world’s answers pounded into our head – whether truly accurate or not.  The mystery is removed.  Our curiosity is banished.  We enter adulthood and become suffocated by work, bills, consumerism, television, and any number of things that encompass the truly mundane. The comfort of our confirmation bias takes over and we don’t want anything to change or our indoctrinated beliefs to be challenged.

We come to accept:
– Conform, don’t question what’s assumed to be true
– Be complacent & acquiesce, don’t challenge the status quo
– Go along, don’t rock the boat
– Blend in, don’t stand out of the herd
– Settle for the mundane, don’t be inspired
– Ignore your boring sterile environs, continue to separate yourself from natural beauty
– Embrace the ugly and mundane
– Expect nothing and wish for less

Is this the life you desire?  I think not.

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead —his eyes are closed.”
– Albert Einstein

 

“Mankind will not perish for want of information; but only for want of appreciation. The beginning of our happiness lies in the understanding that life without wonder is not worth living. What we lack is not a will to believe but a will to wonder.”
– Abraham Joshua Heschel

 

 

A couple of good online articles:

As with any sourcing on the internet, links can go ‘dead’ after a time. If you find the above-mentioned links no longer working, try the WayBack Machine:  http://archive.org/web/web.php    It’s sometimes a good way to pull up and view websites that are no longer active.

Bull & Bear Pub

This may seem rather trivial to most (I have to remind myself I’m not writing to “most“), but a large part of my appreciation and embellishment for an enriched life consists of surrounding myself with a rich sensory aesthetic that speaks to my inner core.  Therefore, based on my own personal tastes and passions, that aesthetic always involves elements of knowledge, discovery, learning, beauty, truth.

On a recent Royal Caribbean cruise with my beautiful wife, daughter and son-in-law on the Freedom of the Seas, we found ourselves looking for interesting places to relax and unwind after a day of exciting excursions.  The Bull & Bear pub on the the ship’s interior promenade was such a welcoming place. While I haven’t yet traveled to the British Isles it did give me a feeling of a unique and inspiring place to imbibe and converse – one that may perhaps exist in spirit somewhere in Great Britain.

0729161933a0728162247

0729161932aThe place was rather empty during the day while travelers were either on the pool deck or if docked, on an excursion, but in the evenings it was packed with patrons sampling beer and partaking in the wonderful music of a lone guitarist/singer who did such an incredible job rendering vintage hits from the 70s and 80s.  Debbie and I are not beer drinkers but they did have a decent selection of wine.

The specific aesthetic elements that caught my attention and spoke to my soul were part of the interior, and to some extent the exterior, which seemed to cater to the knowledge adventurer and discoverer!  Along the side of the pub was a wall lined with what appears to be a well-stocked library (probably a facsimile).  And in the middle, a display case of “evolutionary” skulls (no doubt replicas).

0726161923d0726161923a0726161923cStill . . . . . . not only did the interior speak to me, but the exterior also held some interesting surprises.  In a similar manner to the skulls display inside, the exterior windows held an interesting (although nearly hidden) shadow-box-type display of a Cabinet of Curiosities!  The frustrating part was the glass covering this display was colored/frosted in such a way that its contents were nearly hidden in their entirety.  I attempted to snap some photos in an attempt to capture their mysteries:

0729161928a 0729161927b 0729161927aMuch in the same way that the Kunstkammer of old attempts to display an array of interesting and inspiring discoveries, this window shows a skull, armillary, coral, atlas, fish, shells, intellectual diagrams, etc – all items of discovery and adventure.

If I have to choose a place of relaxation and satiation – this type of establishment calls to my soul in spades – compared to someplace of sterile blandness.

Live life fully! Pursue experiences and settings that satiate your soul!

 

 

 

Kunstkammer/Wunderkammer (Cabinet of Curiosities)

During the Renaissance period Kings, Princes and other aristocrats who had an intellectual and adventurous bent (and wanted to show off their sophistication and wealth), created what was known as a Kunstkammer or Wunderkammer – a Cabinet of Curiosities.

What did those cabinets contain?  Well, first of all, the word “cabinet” most often referred to an actual room – not a traditional piece of furniture.  Nowadays we do have curiosity cabinets; small display units that hang on the wall or stand on the floor with glass windows to display the owner’s collection of items they’re passionate about.  Those are a direct influence and to some extent the same purpose as the Wunderkammers of old – just on a smaller scale.

In reading about the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II and his support for alchemy, Hermeticism, and other Rosicrucian-type interests (much to the chagrin of the Catholic leadership in Rome), I came to discover this term Kunstkammer.  Rudolf had one that was the largest of its kind at the time – unrivaled anywhere in Europe. It apparently was a wonder to behold and housed in his palace at Prague.  Unfortunately there is nothing left of it after the Swedish forces plundered it when they took Prague in 1648.

Thanks to some early writings during the period we have some old woodcut illustrations of how these Wunderkammers may have appeared:

wk01 wk02 wk03 wk04 wk05These rooms contained whatever artifacts the owner desired. During the renaissance adventurers were returning from exotic places around the world.  Many discoveries were made particularly in terms of nature and the animal kingdom.  Frequently these Wunderkammers would contain collections of rare and bizarre creatures and other items found on these global travels.  Contents could also include antiquities, rare manuscripts, rocks & minerals, religious relics, works of art, scientific and medical instruments, automatons, etc.

These collections are a physical tribute and symbol to the mysteries of the universe and discovery.  They were the precursor to modern museums.  Unfortunately nearly all of them were decimated or liquidated long, long ago.

Even as time goes on, and museums established, the common man with limited resources still found a passion to display their prized collection. It might be a shadow box, curio cabinet, a corner of an office, or the decorative theme of a home library.

Some examples can be seen here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

 

The key here, I think, are exceptional individuals called by their interests – to pursue, collect, and display the fruits of their passions – those elements that resonate with their souls.  The display might be an overt attempt to impress their visitors, but more often than not I believe it is a creation of aesthetics; a way to surround themselves with objects that enhance and drive their imagination, creativity and enrichment of life.

I’m always impressed with interesting personal libraries and collections of modern individuals, but I haven’t discovered one any more impressive than Jay Walker’s Library of the History of Human Imagination.  I would dearly love to spend days immersing myself in its wonders!

My personal library is a constant work in progress/passion – all because I absolutely love surrounding myself with an artistic and intellectual aesthetic that fuels my creative drive and appeal to wonder.  I believe this is the intent of most of us who share the passion to create our own personal Wunderkammers – a tribute to the wondrousness of the world and its inspiration for us.

Satiate your soul with the wonders of the Universe!  Embrace the fascination and excitement of new discovery!  Dive deep into the little-known and unappreciated gems of the world!  Enrich your life!

 

 

Walker Library of the History of Human Imagination

One of the things that satiates my soul and ignites a spark of excitement, awe and wonder is a gorgeous and robust library.  There are two reasons for this.

  1. The vision of a plethora of books ignites a fire within.  I see the myriad of bindings lining the shelves and immediately imagine a wealth of knowledge, adventure, and discovery in their volumes!  Each tome an element on the road to ultimate Truth.
  2. But books alone don’t fulfill the equation with regards to a stunning library.  The aesthetics of the structure’s architecture and decor add an additional element of magic and excitement to the visitor’s experience.  Shouldn’t the surroundings invite the artistic and adventurous side of us to participate as well as the intellectual?

I salivate over photos and articles about the most incredible libraries around the world, and will be sharing some of those in the future.  For today though, I want to feature a more modern library that looks incredible – Jay Walker’s Library of the History of Human Imagination.

Jay Walker was the founder of Priceline.com and Walker Digital.  He built this 3,600 square foot library which is part of his large home in Ridgefield, CT.  It’s an invitation-only private library.

The glass panels of the staircases are etched glass by artist Clyde Lynds. There are about 200 of them each showing human inventions over time.  Hidden LED lighting illuminate all the panels by computer.  Music is also computer-controlled.

A video tour:

What a blissful place of discovery, imagination and knowledge!  My personal library doesn’t hold a candle to this masterpiece, but it does serve my intellectual and aesthetic passions (for the budget I have).

🙂