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27 April 2010 / Liz Johns

The Beauty Of An Animal

What is it about a beautiful animal that, in most of us, creates feelings of awe, desire and love? The sleek, graceful cheetah; the rainbow wings of the macaw; the delicate lines of a dragonfly.  All those animals share that the same instrinsic quality – Beauty.

The tricky thing is ­– we can’t agree on what beauty is. It seems to be something we all subconsciously recognise, but any attempt to define it falls sadly amiss.

What do philosophers and mathematicians say about Beauty? Is sight the most important factor in recognising beauty? This is what I think, what about you …

Ideas of Beauty

The notion of beauty has been addressed from a number of angles: philosophically by the ancient Greeks with the ideas of purity and inherent beauty; spiritually with the idea that beauty is but a small glimpse of the eternal Truth; mathematically, with the idea of symmetry in the concept of the Golden Ratio: and evolutionally with the idea that beauty exists to attract the ‘best’ mate. Many views, each valid in their own way, but none have answered the question fully on what beauty is or why we recognise it.

Even so, most of us can agree that certain animals are beautiful. We pretty consistently choose the same animals to label as beautiful – the tiger, the peacock, the gazelle. This is in contrast to human beauty where the idea of beauty differs between race, age and creed. Why are we more likely to agree on animal beauty than on human beauty?

Animal Beauty v Human Beauty

Beauty in a human is entangled with the ego; the ego of the beautiful person and the ego of the beholder. I don’t believe we are able to accept and appreciate the beauty of a human face as we are so tied up in our desires and jealousies. We cannot look upon that beauty per se without somehow bringing ourselves into the equation. Such is the ego of the human.

But when we reflect upon the beauty of animals, we cannot directly identify with them. Though we share the same roots in the Animal Kingdom, our worlds are totally separate. We can only observe them and do not know how they think. Only as a child can we ‘pretend’ to be the panther prowling the jungle, but even then we anthropomorphise them away from their true being. With this inability to deeply connect with animals, we are free to observe and marvel at them.

The Observation of Beauty

That’s the key word then – observe. Aristotle hypothesised that the sense most prone to recognizing beauty is sight. This cannot be more true in our appreciation of animals. Their colours and their forms create pleasurable patterns that we regard as beautiful. Think of the multitude of colours in jungle animals, the way fur shines in sunlight, the deep emerald green eyes of a wild cat, the muscular physique of a horse, the wide gentle eyes of a deer. We perceive the order and harmony of these characteristics and they create within us a sense of wonder and admiration that we call beauty. We don’t know what it is, but we want to look upon it.

We Still Don’t Know

In the study of beauty, there are only questions piled upon unanswered questions in a bid to unravel its meaning. We are still no nearer to knowing what beauty is, but we come closer to agreeing on it when we consider things other than ourselves, like the wonderful creatures with whom we share the Animal Kingdom. However we approach the issue, we can all appreciate a beautiful animal. So let’s just enjoy them for that. Animal beauty remains that elusive, mysterious ideal that forever holds us in awe.


One Comment

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  1. Liz Johns / May 8 2010 10:14 am

    I must include a quote from this great blog post on the subject of how we see beauty.

    We are all illusions amongst ourselves. Beauty is what we make of it.

    Very insightful. Beautifully put.


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