A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Hooptedoodle #119 - Eye of the Beholder

Lower Slaughter, Cotswolds - seems nice...
Even by my standards, this may turn out to be an unusually pointless post. Starting from nowhere in particular, it is likely to end somewhere similar, having passed through yet more of the same. If you wish to read it I’ll be pleased to have your company, and would welcome any thoughts you may have, but don’t say you haven’t been warned…

Yesterday I was idly reading over a forum thread to which I do not subscribe, and in which I have no special interest, but it got me thinking. Fleur d’Ennui, as Django’s tune is called.

The topic was What is Beauty? – with specific reference to landscapes. For some reason it reminded me of an occasion, years ago, when I used to visit the Cotswolds on business. I liked the Cotswolds, and it was not an area I was familiar with. Though I was, in my own right, exactly the same pipsqueak that I have always been, I represented a very heavyweight client of the people I was dealing with at the time, and thus I was lucky enough to be taken out to some very pleasant eating places.

Some village or other - seems nice...
One sunny evening I was taken to a place near the village of Bradford (which sticks in my mind because it was very different from the large city with which it shares a name). We parked the car a little distance from the hostelry we were visiting, and walked along the road to it. On the way, I stopped and took a photograph (lost years ago), because I thought the view was so lovely. A country road, curving in a gentle S-bend, over an ancient bridge and then up a little hill into a wood, with a stone-built coaching inn on the outside of the bend.

After I’d taken the photo, I started wondering why this particular view appealed to me. Did it remind me of somewhere? Was it like the illustrations in some picture book which I loved as a child? Was there something instinctively attractive about it? Did it conform to some learned standard of design? Did it seem like a pleasant place to live (or dine, in this case)? What?

First thing about beauty, I guess, is that you have to let it wash over you – just enjoy it. If you over-analyse it the wheels fall off. Still, I was intrigued.

Trin Valley - seems nice...
I am also reminded of Billy Connolly’s fine tale of taking his then-small children on holiday in the Scottish Highlands, and trying to get them to be enthusiastic about the scenery. It strikes a chord with all parents – past and present – but it also gets us back to this idea of a received concept of beauty.

“This is a mountain”, said Billy, “isn’t it lovely?”

His kids were unconvinced. A mountain is a big lump of rock and stuff, folded up and maybe a bit battered, eroded by the wind and the rain and covered in vegetation. That is the way the above-water bits of the planet behave – a mountain is just a lump – there are lots of them. Why should it be lovely? Why should this one be any lovelier than, say, that one? Billy’s kids thought the whole experience was less lovely, and much less interesting, than Sesame Street on their camper van’s portable TV.

Were they wrong? It’s a funny one – some things please me – some images can almost reduce me to tears, but I don’t understand why. All right – show me a photo of my own children, especially when they were little, and my pupils will dilate (or whatever) and I get a lump in my throat, but that’s largely hormones and things. Why the reaction to pictures of places? I seem to have a fondness for views with water in them, and there are probably certain other repeating characteristics, but where does it come from, especially as a reaction to places which I do not know and which mean nothing to me? Are we born with these feelings? Is it learned? – for that matter, and more sinisterly, is it taught?

Verwallsee, Tyrol - seems nice...
If we widen out the topic, we get into all sorts of consideration of why we all like what we like (scientific overtones), and the whole issue of “taste” (which introduces less palatable issues like background and upbringing, and the dreaded whiff of snobbery).

In truth, I suspect that if I understood more about this I might not be a happier person – I fear that I might not enjoy what I had learned, especially about myself. It does interest me though, if only in those safe moments when I know that there is no risk of my finding out any more about it.

Best strategy is probably just to enjoy what you enjoy, and don’t worry about it too much. So I’ll just try to do that. 

And, since I mentioned him, here's Django 


  1. A great post and well thought out, Beauty is definitely a personal thing, I get enthused about the natural world around us where as I can regularly see my wifes eye glaze over when I mention such things

  2. I think the answers to your various questions go something like, yes, and no, depending, but possibly if not probably except possibly where the scene has been compromised by an emotional connection to an impotant event in ones life.

    If you do figure it out, maybe you could work on why I like certain figures and painting styles vs other ones that some other people like better? I suspect its related in some fashion.