Natural wonders such as the Grand Canyon are indisputably beautiful, or so most people would agree. Man made wonders don’t share equal adulation, however. Why is it so difficult to get people to agree? Is it a question of taste, or is it something cultural, or is it genetic predisposition or even a combination of lots and lots of things? This is the filter that I refer to that holds preferences and prejudices that lie, often, beyond our own reason.
The difficulty with this filter, or bias, is that it gives us no advantage. Having looked at 18th century furniture for a very long time, I feel that I have shed my filter, but I don’t really believe that is possible. I know the subject backwards and forwards, but I still have a bias–it is inescapable. I well remember the controversy over Maya Lin’s Viet Nam Memorial in Washington, D.C. Frankly, it looks beautiful, but there will never be universal approval. This is who we are as a people, borne with filters that control us somehow.
Is there an equal amount of dissension on assessing the beauty of the Parthenon? Given that it is twenty-five hundred years old, have our filters cleared enough to allow an unvarnished judgment on that building? This is a topic of endless qualification which can be refined ad nauseam. What is most important, however, is not to understand why the filter is there, but to understand that it is there and that it is the root of all prejudice…, and not just in aesthetics.