A plenary with three speakers with backgrounds from disciplines across the theme of beauty, order, harmony and design. Each speaker will address the theme by giving short presentations or papers from their personal and disciplinary perspectives, leaving time for discussion and debate.
This plenary addresses the apparent contradiction between the universal and relative aspects of Beauty, exploring it as a form of action and process rather than simply as the result of actions. As Suzanne Langer says, beauty is not only lodged in the eyes of the viewer, the critic or consumer, but also in the producer, who through engagement strives for some kind of balance, order, disorder or revelation, as wholesomely satisfying to the hand and heart of the maker as it is to the eyes of the beholder. It is 20 years since the Manchester GDAT debate defeated the motion 'Aesthetics is a cross-cultural category', and fifteen since Alfred Gell wrote that artefacts which were awe-inspiring or made with incomprehensible skill were not beautiful, but 'possessed by agency'. This plenary provokes us to consider Beauty as something that people sense, seek and strive for, whether through a walk to a 'place of outstanding natural beauty', through acts of creativity, listening to music, experiencing architecture, visiting heritage sites (age, it seems, brings beauty) and art galleries, or through actions such as engineering bridges or designing for the future. We take this to be an entirely perilous adventure, daring to bring the ephemeral, unquantifiable and magical into the realm of reflection, orderliness and balance, viewing Keats' 'A thing of beauty is a joy for ever' to be as equally tenable as Beauty's conflation with aesthetics or judgement.