February 12, 2009

Are standards of artistic beauty universal?

This is a big question raised by Denis Dutton's book "The Art Instinct," so I'm going to focus just on one small field where I actually kind of know what I'm talking about: golf course architecture. Specifically, are golf courses naturally attractive to a sizable fraction of the male population around the globe? Since they are hugely expensive to build, their sheer existence testifies to that proposition.

The answer is: time will tell. However, I wouldn't be surprised if the look of golf courses proved universally popular by the end of this century. Golf courses, which originated in Scotland, first became popular in the Anglosphere about a century ago. They have since become wildly popular in East Asia (the LPGA tour is now dominated by South Koreans, and you frequently read about Chinese peasants protesting that corrupt local officials have stolen their land to build golf courses), and almost as popular in Western Europe. The oil sheikdoms have built golf courses in the Persian Gulf.

On the other hand, golf has yet to prove terribly popular in Russia, South Asia, black Africa (north of South Africa), or Latin America. I see that mostly as a matter of time and money, but I could be wrong.

By the way, there are two main styles of golf courses: the original links, which emerged out of crumpled, treeless Scottish sand dunes otherwise useful only for grazing sheep, and the sleeker inland American-style courses with tree-lined fairways and lakes.

My impression is that the original style is a bit of an acquired taste. Generally, golfers don't come to appreciate the look of golf courses built on sand dunes until they've some experience with the game. In contrast, the American-style golf course look is frequently imitated for non-golf purposes, such as corporate campuses and rich men's estates.

And then there's the issue, as Dennis Mangan raises in the comments, of changing tastes over time in landscape, from the "beautiful" to the "sublime." From my golf course architecture article:

The distinction Edmund Burke made in 1757 between the "sublime" and the "beautiful" applies to golf courses. The beautiful is some pleasing place conducive to human habitat -- meadows, valleys, slow moving streams, grassland intermingled with copses of trees, the whole English country estate shtick. The sublime is nature so magnificent that it induces the feeling of terror because it could kill you, such as by you falling off a mountain or into a gorge.

Beautiful landscapes are most suited for building golf courses, since a golf course needs close to 100 acres of land level enough for a golf ball to come to rest upon. But golfers get a thrill out of the mock sublime, where you are in danger of losing not your life, but your mis-hit golf ball into a water hazard or ravine. One reason that Pebble Beach on the Monterey Peninsula is so legendary is because it combines sublime sea cliffs with beautiful (and thus functional for golf) rolling plains (My father, though, almost walked off the cliff in the middle of the eighth fairway at Pebble Beach and into the wave-carved chasm, which probably would have satisfied Burke's theoretical rigor.)

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

16 comments:

Malcolm said...

Water fountains are said to be prominent in the Alhambra because water was so rare and precious to desert dwellers, whereas water fountains in Ireland might seem ..... useless. Some images seem to resonate across cultures - Hokasia's great wave, Michangelo's Creation of Adam. Some change with time. Sargent's Madame X was a scandalous flop now it is an icon of the gilded age.

Anonymous said...

I've noticed many Turks, Africans and Arabs who could not give a hoot for say the architectural beauty of the Cologne cathedral. Indians seem to appreciate it somewhat, whereas most Europeans find it awesome. So this particular aesthetic is not universal.

Dennis Mangan said...

What we think of as "romantic' landscapes, like mountains, stormy oceans, or the landscape depicted in "Heart of the Andes" weren't considered beautiful until around the turn of the 19th century. They were thought forbidding and desolate. More appreciated were neatly-manicured gardens. Tastes in landscape seem to have followed or mirrored tastes in music, from classical to romantic.

Anonymous said...

Many Askanazi seem indifferent or oblivious to softer anglo aesthetics, and often promote, big, flashy Frank Ghery like stuff.

They also seem to have a near contempt for European beauty and any sort of sentimentality like Norman Rockwell..the way many of us might react to Thomas Kinkade. That said, I think Spielberg was heavily influenced by Rockwell's imagery and is an avid collector.

Anonymous said...

I've noticed many Turks, Africans and Arabs who could not give a hoot for say the architectural beauty of the Cologne cathedral.

Well, if those Turks, Africans, and Arabs are Muslims, then there's probably a reason they don't respond to medieval Christian architecture. Crusades and all that, you know.

Anonymous said...

[BOOK] The General Factor in Aesthetic Judgements
HJ Eysenck, WS Maclay - 1940 - At the University Press

David said...

I am impressed by Islamic art and architecture.

Photo

Photo

Photo

Photo

Photo

These places would be the first to be nuked if some people had their way.

Stanford said...

I've noticed many Turks, Africans and Arabs who could not give a hoot for say the architectural beauty of the Cologne cathedral.

Let's consider that religious works are actually devices used to transmit accumulated cultural wisdom through the ages. The Bible rails against melting the nations together. It also describes a Tower of Babel society of many languages as a form of punishment.

"Turks, Africans and Arabs" don't belong in Europe in large numbers because the result will be destruction of the civilization. If these groups were in Japan or Peru they would feel the same ambivalence and contempt.

Many churches have been destroyed in Kosovo. But don't look for regular articles and photo essays in the NYT. Muslims will destroy churches as public policy as soon as they get the upper hand.

iSteve's babyboomer generation is not up to the task of fighting the Muslims or the Mexicans for that matter. I can't wait until the babyboomers are gone.

Anonymous said...

Some years ago, I'd been discussing Islamic architecture with an Arab Muslim and, after praising some of the mosques I had seen, mentioned how beautiful I though certain European cathedrals are. Suddenly, my interlocutor bristled and shuddered at the thought of finding a cathedral beautiful. Since then I've tried this out on a few dozen Arab Muslims and almost every time I get the same reaction. A shudder and barely disguised hostility. When pressed, the legacy of the Crusades was always dredged up. They were all fixated on their civilization's long-faded glory and its present humiliation. Hence the resentment.

They had the same reaction to European classical music, too.

Anonymous said...

A shudder and barely disguised hostility. When pressed, the legacy of the Crusades was always dredged up

While the legacy of Muslim invasion of the Eastern Christian lands is conveniently forgotten. An invasion the crusades were attempting to reverse.

Anonymous said...

While the legacy of Muslim invasion of the Eastern Christian lands is conveniently forgotten. An invasion the crusades were attempting to reverse.

But of course. How else can you cling to your grievances and maintain your exquisite sense of victimhood? It's all about fighting yesteryear's battles. Just look at T99 blaming the old Harvard WASP elite for his inability to score with chicks. Same dynamic, different ethnos, that's all.

anonat1137 said...

Stanford said:

"iSteve's babyboomer generation is not up to the task of fighting the Muslims or the Mexicans for that matter. I can't wait until the babyboomers are gone."

Speaking of fighting someone who knows how to fight back. The best army the US has fought on its own in two hundred years was the Vietnamese communists/ anti-imperialists. Remember that in 79 they crushed the Chinese, the same Army that clobbered seasoned troops of the Greatest Generation [LOL] in Korea.
My friends in the babyboomer generation fought and just about destroyed the PAVN and Viet Cong. All with one hand tied and half the home crowd cheering for the visiting team. The babyboomers mostly grew up corrupted and did not abandon American ideals on their own. They never changed. Instead they were raised to be their pitiful selves by their parents in the Greatest Generation [sic].

The crew who sold us out were the Greatest Generation [in their own minds]. We boomers ran nothing in the 60s. The geezers opened the borders and kept them open. They started free trade and outsourcing. They kicked off the credit-card economy that has now come due. Their biggest problem was that no one could ever measure up to their Great Accomplishments [registered TM]. We were supposed to be impressed that they finished off the Germans in a few months (bombing civilians day and night) after the Russians had sacrificed a generation to save communism. (Admittedly in the real war against Japan they did fine.) And, oh yes, the post war boom: How great it was to be a young free trader with the rest of the world in ruins.

We were sold out by a generation that felt superior and entitled, not the boomers. Know your enemy.

Ronduck said...

anonat1137 said...

We were sold out by a generation that felt superior and entitled, not the boomers. Know your enemy.

A perfect review of Gran Torino, if I do say so myself. You, me and Clint Eastwood all seem to be reaching the same conclusion. It was the WW2 and depression generation that started us in this mess and voted for FDR. However the Boomers are free men and they do have the obligation of thinking for themselves at some point in their lives. As far as I know there has not been a mass movement among the Boomers to stop immigration or even stop any other abomination from their youth.

Just when I think I've come to a conclusion about something, I come to this blog and find that someone else has come to the same conclusion at the same time and posted it here as a comment just before I wanted to. We all seem to be thinking in lock step, I need to remember that whenever I think that I am somehow smarter. I feel like I am part of a school of fish.

Has anyone else out there come to the same conclusion about the Catholic church that I have?

Anonymous said...

If Muslims really tend to bristle at the suggestion that cathedrals are beautiful, that seems rather to suggest that they appreciate them perfectly well, and wish they didn't, than that their idea of beauty is very different from ours.

After all, they seem to like Romanesque architecture just fine (see Hagia Sophia). Probably they would love Chartes too, if the stained glass were knocked out and a few ugly little minarets tacked on.

Truth said...

"My friends in the babyboomer generation fought and just about destroyed the PAVN and Viet Cong."

The most sophisticated military machine in the history of the world managed to eke out a stalemate with a group of 14 year old girls armed with an AK-47 and a bag of rice: Certainly a great moment in miltariy history What are the odds?

Jun said...

Quite simply the most amazing golf hole on the planet

"The brand-new golf course at the Legends Golf & Safari Resort in South Africa is an amazing stretch of 18 holes designed by 18 different top-flight golfers, including Padraig Harrington, Colin Montgomerie, K.J. Choi, Retief Goosen, Justin Rose, Trevor Immelman and Vijay Singh. And I'm sure each one of those 18 holes is a perfect mini-masterpiece of challenge and reward. Along with, apparently, a lion or two along the way, if we're to believe the brochures.

"But that's nothing. Wait until you get to the bonus 19th hole.

"The course's so-called 'Xtreme 19th' hole is a par 3 -- a par 3 whose tee is atop a cliff on Hanglip Mountain, more than 1,400 feet above a green carved like the continent of Africa. You've got to take a helicopter to get to the tee box, and from there it's more than 630 yards to the pin. Once you tee off, it takes nearly 30 seconds for the ball to hit the ground...."

:-)

Padraigs 830-metre par three!