On beauty

On beauty

The importance of beauty in one’s life is often underestimated in modern life which can perhaps best be seen in modern architecture. In the late 19th century, architects started following the design philosophy of “Form follows function”. A modern architect would be asked to design a building which, first and foremost, could fit 900 offices. The aesthetic value of the property would be an afterthought and sometimes would only emerge from mere coincidence.

Compare this with medieval schools in the Arabic-speaking world. These places of learning were designed with beauty in mind, so much so that many of the preserved schools are now musea.

I believe that this emphasis on beautiful study space was not a whimsical choice, nor a mere coincidence. I think that medieval architects recognized that “a place for learning” is more effective if it is beautiful.

Perhaps this is also liked on emerging research on the importance of nature in daily life. Direct or indirect access to nature has been proven to positively affect mental state, working efficiency and happiness (Bell et al. 1996).

I can also say from personal experience that beauty has a positive effect on productivity. Personally, I am a big fan of typesetting or the art of making pretty documents. The prospect of an aesthetically pleasing document often motivates me to start writing, for instance during exam season, a useful trait to say the least. Afterwards, I like to believe that the style, layout and overall look of the document contribute to readability and make the work more appealing.

This all is to say the following. Many modern creations are ugly and repulsive. This makes us lose out, not only on beauty directly, but also on the positive side effects it has. Those who wish to be more productive could look into prettifying their working environment, tools or even the work itself, instead of pursuing productivity and efficiency directly.

Bell, P. A., Greene, T. C., Fisher, J. D., & Baum, A. (1996). Environmental psychology (4th ed.). New York, NY: Harcourt.