Notes on Beauty

November 4, 2010

Beauty on Houston Street.

What can I say?  I’ve been busy.  Sometime back in September, my Metropolis column on urban beauty was published and I’ve been lost in a fog of aesthetic splendor since then. I’ve gone all Cinderella.  Suddenly, everything is beautiful.  Even the chronically distasteful corner of Houston and Lafayette has been graced by Beauty (courtesy of Calvin Klein).  Oh, yes.

(Okay, there was the election, and that was decidedly non-beautiful.)

And I spent a few days in Austin, Texas pontificating about beauty in a city that is something of an aesthetic refusnik. More on this in the December issue of Metropolis.

(Well, there is a very lovely glass- punctured wall by Lewis Tsurumaki Lewis at Austin’s newly rehabbed Arthouse at the Jones Center: see below.)

Since September,  I’ve accumulated a few beauty-related tidbits that I’ve been meaning to share.

First, I’ve been intending to plug Leonard Koren’s newest little book, which “aesthetics” do you mean?  ten definitions. Penelope Green profiled Leonard several weeks ago in the New York Times, which is probably why the book is now prominently placed near the cash register at McNally Jackson.  But I figured I should still add my two cents:  Leonard has an approach to aesthetics (in this book and others, like his take on Wabi- Sabi) that is at once off-kilter and wonderfully clear.  Reading him, I feel like a precocious child grasping a concept that I’d assumed was too adult for me.  This is a good feeling.  As is reading about aesthetics without having to wade through impenetrable jargon.

Second, my beauty essay attracted a lot of interesting email.  Rachel Berstone of an Australian publication called Steel Profile sent me a link to a blog called 52 Suburbs, in which a photographer tirelessly searches the Sydney hinterlands in search of beauty.    Christopher Hawthorne, architecture critic for the LA Times referred me to an old essay of his which is more about ugliness than beauty, but relevant nonetheless.  And swami of the Creative Class Richard Florida, pointed me to a study he helped design for Gallup called The Soul of the Community, in which they determined that “physical beauty” is one of the things that attaches people to their hometowns.

Florida, in his email, noted:

Cities really are more than economic structures or material structures. The way we perceive them really, really matters on a host of levels. And of the things we perceive beauty is the most fundamentally important, it appears.

And, just today, the beauty essay got a  shout out from Ada Louise Huxtable in her WSJ piece lamenting the removal of the Bertoia screen from the interior of the landmarked Manufacturers Hanover Trust building at Fifth Ave. and 43rd St.

Beauty in Austin, Texas courtesy of Lewis Tsurumaki Lewis.