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Outdoors: Dig


How long has there been appreciation of beauty?

Last week, I was participating in an archaeological dig. We had stopped for lunch on a gorgeous day, and gazing with appreciation at the reflections of autumn leaves in the still water of the nearby cove, I wondered if a thousand years ago, people sat on the same bank and took pleasure in the same scene. So asked the archaeologists if they thought the people of the Late Woodland Period had an appreciation for beauty.

My companions, who are  professors and accustomed to naïve queries, patiently replied, “They were people…human beings…Of course they did.”

But they went on to explain that while different cultures have had different concepts of beauty and that what people value can change over the years, people all over the world have always had a sense of beauty…and that humans have taken pleasure in nature and in the arts since time began.

One of the archaeologists chimed in, most cultures in North American seemed to value symmetry.

Another explained that color-pairing seemed to be significant to many groups, though whether certain colors combinations had spiritual connotations, or indicated status, or were just considered pleasing, is unclear. Maybe all of the above.

They agreed that when First Nation People added decorations to their possessions—baskets, clothing, ceramics—the art they created often was  a representation of nature. And that is not just true of the indigenous people of North America. It is true all over the world. That can’t be a coincidence.

We know that ancient people gazed in wonder at the beauty of the night sky. People have always enjoyed looking at water. They valued certain stones.  The beauty of leaves and flowers, or representations of them, has given pleasure throughout the ages. 

Nature is beautiful.

People, always and everywhere, have appreciated and needed beauty –and that is one of the many reasons we need the arts. They helps make us complete human beings.

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"Outdoors with Coggin Heeringa" can be heard every Wednesday on Classical IPR.