All texts like books, magazines, and papers for instance have two components: cognitive and aesthetic. The distinction between the cognitive and the aesthetic is apparent if we distinguish between prose and poetry. They can both convey the same meaning, but poetry says it more aesthetically. Similarly, you can talk in a flat tone, but you could say it better with a suitable variation of tone and speed; some words are spoken louder, others are softer, some will be slower or faster, there could be pauses, and rushes. The words are the content while the tone, pitch, speed, and pauses constitute the form. Aesthetics appears both in content (such as poetry vs. prose) as well as form (such as musical vs. non-musical). But what is beauty? Where does it live? This question has baffled philosophers for many centuries, without any good answers. This post discusses the nature of beauty based on some ideas drawn from Vedic philosophy.
Table of Contents
- 1 What is Aesthetics? What are its Origins?
- 2 Does Beauty Lie in the Eye of the Beholder?
- 3 What Vedic Philosophy Tells Us
- 4 Beauty Depends on Content
- 5 The Nature of Modern Art
- 6 Major Trends in Modernist Art
- 7 Art is About the Ideal Not the Real
- 8 Can Beauty Be Objective?
- 9 The Theory of Six Qualities
- 10 The Origins of Cultural Diversity
- 11 The Vaishnava Theory of Aesthetics
- 12 The Many Forms of Aestheticism
- 13 Effects of the Three Modes of Nature
What is Aesthetics? What are its Origins?
Aesthetics has been widely associated with two things in Western philosophy: (1) emotional response of the observers who consume some content, and (2) form over content, such as an emphasis on the style of painting rather than the objects depicted, the genre of music rather than its subjects, etc. Both these positions are inaccurate, as we can see from above.
First, we cannot equate aesthetics to an emotional response because the definition seems both too broad and yet to narrow. For instance, the definition is too broad because nearly everything in life can and often does produce an emotional response; not everything making us happy qualifies to be called beauty (Is sleep beautiful because it puts my mind at ease? Or is fighting beautiful because many people seem to enjoy it?) Similarly, the definition also appears to be too narrow because there is as much beauty in physics or mathematics—e.g. symmetry and harmony—as in music or art; while a physicist or mathematician enjoys the beauty of their subject, that beauty is not emotional, because the perception of symmetry and harmony are not emotional responses.
Second, we cannot equate aesthetics to the study of form over content because there is often much beauty in the ideas themselves, not just in their expression; it is possible to express a beautiful idea in ugly prose, or an ugly idea in beautiful prose; therefore, beauty is not the sole prerogative of the choice of expression; it is equally a property of the ideas themselves. This is often seen in stories whose plot is very attractive, although the prose execution might be disappointing.
I find it necessary to clear the clutter first because the question of aesthetics has been debated for thousands of years and we still don’t seem to have a clear answer to “What is beauty?”
My view of the historical debates on aesthetics is that philosophers have confused aesthetics with the dominant ways in which they found beauty being expressed in their cultures at a particular time. Neither are those methods of expression universal nor are the particular styles widespread. Therefore, as we equate the definition of beauty to a specific cultural or personal expression of beauty, we create many confusions.
Does Beauty Lie in the Eye of the Beholder?
I aim to refute the idea that all beauty is perception, and argue that beauty is an objective property of reality. However, not everyone can find that property, just as not everyone will perceive reality as it is. This constitutes a problem of our perception, not a problem of the objectivity of beauty itself.
Compare aesthetics with epistemology where philosophers have sought methods to know the truth. The premise behind that question is that there is a reality, although we might misperceive, misunderstand, or misrepresent it. Thus, the question “Is the apple really red?” is a question about the nature of reality. However, the question “Is this painting of the apple beautiful?” is not considered a question about the nature of reality. We must decipher the ideology that leads to this discrimination.
Western philosophy has pursued the dogma that matter is independent of the observer. For example, the question “Is the apple really red?” is based on a false premise. The apple is atoms and molecules, whose properties are mass, charge, energy, and momentum, not color, taste, smell, and shape. So, the apple is not red, not because it is green or yellow, but because it doesn’t have the property of color. We associate perceptual properties with macroscopic objects, but such objects are unreal; only the atomic objects are real, and they don’t have taste, touch, smell, sound, and sight. In fact, macroscopic objects exist only in our senses and minds, while the microscopic atoms are the reality.
Once we discard the reality of redness, then we must discard the beauty of redness. We don’t suppose that you could call the atoms of Nitrogen, Oxygen, or Carbon beautiful or ugly. The problem stems from the belief that taste, smell, touch, sight, and sound, are not objective. The emotional response to these perceptions (i.e. that some of these perceptions appear to be beautiful while others do not) therefore must also be a subjective property. If we equate beauty to an emotional response then beauty only lies in the eyes of the beholder. Now, there must be as many definitions of beauty as there are people. In other words, you don’t need a definition because you are totally free to define beauty in whatever way you deem fit.
I will, therefore, contend that the problems surrounding the definition of beauty emanate from an even prior problem in the cognitive component of perception. If redness is not a real property of the world, then the beauty of redness is certainly not expected to be objective. Once the “hue” is subjective, then the beauty of that hue too must be subjective. Now, you can provide personal definitions of beauty, or at best, provide a socio-cultural construct of beauty, because beauty is not objective.
What Vedic Philosophy Tells Us
In Sāńkhya philosophy, taste, touch, smell, sound, and sight are objective facts of matter, not personal beliefs. However, our senses can misperceive the world, and what exists objectively may not be known as such. However, that only points towards a problem in the sense-perception (i.e. the observer) not in the reality. By the same token, beauty is also objective—i.e. not in the eyes of the beholder—although the beholder may not see the beauty, or misperceive beautiful as ugly, or vice versa.
This is a radical viewpoint because it means that beauty is not a prisoner of society, culture, or an individual. Beauty is indeed objective, in the same way, that there is an objective definition of redness or squareness or goodness. As we subjectivize redness, we also gradually subjectivize (and thus relativize) beauty, right and wrong, good and bad. Ultimately we find that there is no objective definition of morality if we do that, and without such an objective morality, there can be no judgments of right and wrong. Without such judgments, there is no room for reactions to actions (which are called karma), and without such reactions, there is no reason for the soul to transmigrate, which brings into question the problem of repeated suffering by birth and death, or even the question of the soul’s eternity. If there is no problem of suffering, then there is no need for religion.
In essence, the idea that beauty (or redness) is a subjective property, eventually leads to the rejection of religion; we might not see the connection immediately because the rejection is a domino effect. In the beginning, a relativized view of reality seems to create greater room for personal autonomy. But this autonomy—called “free will”—works without accountability or moral responsibility because once the perception has been relativized, then there can be no judgments. As we discard accountability, we also discard moral consequences of actions, and ultimately the ideas of soul and God.
Conversely, the idea that beauty is objective seems to limit our freedom in “interpreting” the world; a lot of things that we “like” or consider “beautiful” would be rejected because they are not objectively beautiful and many things that we don’t like would have to be accepted because they are objectively beautiful. This leads to the idea that our perception needs to be corrected because unless the perception is corrected, our claims of perceiving beauty are hallucinations. So, the simple idea that “beauty is not in the eyes of the beholder” leads to a moral viewpoint. Conversely, the notion that “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder” results in relativism and ultimately nihilism.
Beauty Depends on Content
If I don’t have a story plot to write about, I cannot just write it beautifully. If I don’t know what to say, it would be impossible to say it beautifully. There is hence a necessity for some content to exist before it can be expressed in a beautiful form. If we examine the question of beauty we will find that we always talk about the beauty of an object. In other words, an object must precede beauty; beauty doesn’t exist by itself.
Thus, we call a painting beautiful, a musical piece stunning, or a book remarkable. Beauty is always the property of an object; beauty is never the object by itself. All beautiful objects—e.g. books, songs, pictures—have to be defined in the abstract, before beauty is added to them. For instance, you can think of writing a travelogue and that idea is the basis of your book. The refinement of that idea produces an ordered sequence of descriptions by which the book is detailed. Therefore, the idea of a travelogue is the object, while beauty is one of its attributes. Similarly, before you can create a picture, you must have a subject—e.g. a landscape—which can be presented aesthetically. If you don’t have a subject, attempts to present it beautifully simply results in meaninglessness.
We can say that a cognitive component precedes aesthetics, or that knowledge is more fundamental than beauty. We must first have some ideas which can be presented aesthetically. If we don’t have the idea, then beauty too cannot exist. This seems a fairly simple idea to most of us, however, it has been undermined in various ways in modern art, leading to the notion that beauty can exist without content, and art can simply be the appreciation of forms that need not be given a meaning.
The Nature of Modern Art
Much of modern art falls into the category of form with minimal or no content. If we do not know what is being depicted in a picture, how do we know whether it is being depicted aesthetically? Don’t we see that beauty is a property of an object and not the object by itself? Modern art denies that beauty is an attribute of an object; it claims that beauty is the object by itself. Hence, there is no need to define the subject of art—i.e. the reality that it depicts—because the piece of art is the reality.
Modern art is a byproduct of materialist thinking in which the world is comprised of physical objects with physical properties. E.g., in classical physics, there is a world of particles with mass. Modern art extends this idea into pictures—there is a canvas that has some paint splattered on it. The meaning we give to this physical world—e.g. calling some object a “table” or “chair”—is our creation because in materialism all ideas are fictions of the mind. Therefore the interpretation we give to some paint on the canvas is entirely up to us; different people can give the paint different meanings, and the idea that the object is “beautiful” is entirely up to us. Thus anything can be a work of art.
Artists have mistakenly treated pictures as objects rather than symbols. The existence of an object is itself the truth. However, the existence of a symbol doesn’t guarantee its truth. A symbol becomes true when the ideas depicted by the symbol are true. For that, we need to ensure two things—(1) that we can decode some ideas, and (2) we can test those ideas for their truth.
When we call something an “apple”, we are not just interpreting the world. Rather, we expect to be able to eat that apple, be nourished by its nutrients, be able to relish its taste and be able to satiate our hunger. And the taste, smell, form a particular apple can also be found in other apples, which means that the particular object is symbolizing a general idea. The idea “apple” is not just an interpretation because it can be tested. And what we call an “apple” is therefore not confined to a specific object. The specific object is rather a symbol—of the idea “apple”. There is only one idea “apple” but there are many instantiations of that idea—which are symbols of that idea. By seeing these apples, we can understand the idea (so the symbol conveys the idea). In the same way, we must know what ideas the painting signifies—i.e. we must know how the painting is a symbol.
Once we decipher the meaning underlying the symbol, then we can test if that idea is indeed true. For instance, a book about the nature of reality can claim that the “sky is purple”. I must know English to convert the squiggles into a meaning—i.e. that the sky is purple. I must then be able to test the truth of this claim.
Modern art has a problem of truth (Is this beautiful?) because it has an even deeper problem of meaninglessness (What is it?). Using colors to create a form is analogous to using alphabets to create a text. Not all random letter sequences are meaningful. In the same way, not all colorful things are art. The problem of art is also one of science which treats objects as things rather than symbols. If the world is things, whose meaning is in us then meanings are not objective, and hence they could not be true or false. If, however, the world is symbolic, then the world is meaningful, and then it could be true or false.
If art has to be beautiful, then beauty has to be the idea that an artistic object symbolizes. Just as an apple is a symbol of the idea “apple”, similarly, a work of art has to symbolize the idea of “beauty” (besides other ideas). Just as we cannot consider some text poetry just because it uses a familiar alphabet, similarly, the use of colors and shapes doesn’t constitute art.
Major Trends in Modernist Art
Modern art is a movement that began in Modernism, which insisted on the rejection of the past, especially with regard to the portrayal of historical (e.g. Biblical) or mythological (e.g. God or gods) themes, in favor of pedestrian subjects. At first, these subjects were painted in a realistic manner—i.e., similar to how they were sensually perceived. This slowly gave rise to Impressionism, where the world was still realistic but it seemed a little less stable and solid—as it was drawn through rapid brush strokes—which gave the impression that the world was fleeting. Post-Impressionism, which followed Impressionism, moved away from realism and towards a greater distortion of reality for exaggerated effect, including the use of unnatural or arbitrary colors. Further movement such as Fauvism emphasized a painterly quality in art—i.e. less than fully controlled brush movement—which entailed that the art resembled reality even lesser. The rise of Cubism—which combines multiple perspectives into the same picture—entailed a further departure from reality. For example, a painting could now squeeze the perspectives of up and down, left and right, forward and backward, into the same picture. This meant, eventually, a dissolution of space and time as realistic constructs. Movements such as Constructivism then changed art from “windows” to a world of beauty into the design of real-world objects for day-to-day use, reducing the aesthetic value of art while emphasizing its pragmatic utility. Expressionism emphasizes the importance of the visual properties of art—e.g. color, lines, forms—over a clear subject or meaning; the technique furthermore emphasizes the emotional effect the world has on a person, often depicting disturbed psyche, distorted perception, and anguished scenes. Finally, in movements such as Minimalism, art is heavily influenced by industrial utilitarianism, preferring geometrical shapes over curves and steel cold colors over warm palettes.
Art has systematically moved away from the idea of depicting a transcendent reality with the rise of modernism. Even within modernism, it has moved away from a scientific understanding of the material reality—e.g. breaking space and time structure. Indeed, many artists are openly anti-realists and anti-science.
But, we can also wonder that if art was employed in the depiction of reality—e.g. the new realities that the modern world is creating, such as industrial art that depicts mechanized, cold, and geometrical objects—would we consider it beautiful? It is evident that the problems associated with beauty aren’t confined to the notion that beauty is our perception because sometimes we can express what we experience in order to create a new reality, and our experiences are then embodied into new kinds of objects. The depiction of this new reality in the art can absolve us from the problem of subjectivity (Is art subjective?) but it doesn’t absolve us from asking: Is this new reality beautiful?
Art is About the Ideal Not the Real
A lot of modern art depicts dark and depressing emotions, which are indeed becoming the “reality” of the modern world. Therefore, if someone argued that art was moving away from reality, then they can be countered by showing the art that is moving towards a new dark and depressing reality. This leads to crises in the definition of art because whether you move away from reality or towards it, we seem to have problems either way.
If we consider art to be our imagination, then our imagination can run wild and produce hallucinations, and that would be considered art. If, on the other hand, we consider art to be the true and honest depiction of reality but the reality itself is dark and depressing, then so is art. Therefore, neither alternative—whether art is about reality, or about our imagination—seems to work (as the depiction of the idea of beauty).
Given the twin failures of reality and imagination, I would contend that art is about the ideal not the real (whether that reality is simply our idea or even an external manifestation). The classical conceptions of art were not merely about historical or mythological tales; the real point of those themes was that they had a moral message which described to us the picture of what we considered ideal. The rejection of history and mythology in the art should have provided an alternative ideal, but it did not.
Instead, modern art first replaced the ideal with the semi-ideal reality (e.g. beautiful landscapes in Impressionism), then replaced the semi-ideal reality with a non-ideal imagination (e.g. form without content in Expressionism, or distorted content in Cubism), and finally replaced the non-ideal imagination with a far from ideal reality (e.g. industrial art in Constructivism and Minimalism). The history of modern art can be summed as the move from ideal transcendence to semi-ideal reality to non-ideal imagination to non-ideal reality. In these transitions, the overt argument is that art must move from transcendence to reality or reality to imagination or imagination to the new reality being created by the modern world. However, that overt movement isn’t the most important change occurring because underneath art is moving away from the depiction of the ideal. Superficially, modern art has flip-flopped over positions about the relative importance of the subjective vs. objective. Deep down, it is moving in a single direction—i.e. away from ideality—and as a result, failing to depict what the world should be.
The problem of art is therefore not about whether art pertains to the external reality or to our imagination. Neither position actually leads to a proper understanding of art. The correct position is that art pertains to the ideal rather than the real or the rampant. It is that ideality that should make up art because then art is the symbol of a message—i.e. the ideals of human life.
Can Beauty Be Objective?
Armed with this definition of art as the expression of ideals, we can understand how beauty can be measured objectively: it is the measure of similarity or difference with respect to the ideal. If the real-world objects resemble or represent the ideals, then the objects must be considered beautiful. If instead, the real-world objects do not resemble the ideals, then they are not beautiful. This similarity between the ideal and the real has to be expressed as a “distance” between the two. The real becomes the ideal as the distance reduces. Conversely, the real becomes far from ideal, as the distance to the ideal increases.
This definition of beauty is similar to the definition of meanings I have discussed earlier. In the semantic space, which I have described earlier, all meanings are defined relative to a center; the center is the “trunk” of a tree from which branches emanate, which in turn divide into further branches. Each such branching constitutes a distortion of the ideal—and hence the “distance” from the center. Beauty, similarly, has to be defined relative to a center (in a semantic space) which denotes ideal beauty, and distance from the center denotes the modifications to that ideal beauty in order to produce less than ideal beauty.
The Theory of Six Qualities
In Vaishnava philosophy, everything in the world is real and meaningful; however, some meanings are true, while others are false. How do we define true and false? The answer is that all meanings are produced from an original meaning through a process of distortion. There are hence many relative grades of truth and falsity. As we go towards the original meaning, we discard the distortions, and the meaning becomes truer. As we go farther from the original meaning, we add distortions, and the meaning becomes less true. Ultimately, to find the perfect truth, we have to discard all distortions, and the truth would automatically be found. These distortions are called māyā—i.e. that which is false. As māyā is added, a convoluted picture of the original form is created. As māyā is removed, the original form of reality becomes more apparent. These grades of truth constitute a tree from root to leaves; the leaves are least true, while the root is most true. We go from leaf to root to find the truth.
The original truth is called jnanam-advayama or the Absolute Truth (one without duality). All relative truths are partial expressions of the Absolute Truth; so, there is some truth in all lies, because all lies are built from the truth. However, as the number of lies increase, the truth is obscured to greater extents.
The Absolute Truth also has five subordinate qualities called beauty, renunciation, power, fame, and wealth. As we have discussed above, beauty cannot exist without content. The Absolute Truth is therefore the conceptual knowledge to which the above five qualities can be added. The term jnana means knowledge and the Absolute Truth is “knowledge”, or the original idea. This original idea is expressed in at least five ways, namely, beauty, renunciation, power, fame, and wealth. We can say that the original truth is the content while beauty, renunciation, power, fame, and wealth, are the forms of this content. In each form we can see the same truth or idea, and yet, there are multiple different expressions of that truth.
The Origins of Cultural Diversity
Aesthetics, or the theory of beauty, is one of the five forms in which knowledge can be expressed (the other four being renunciation, fame, power, and wealth). We can illustrate this expression through some linguistic examples.
We already know that knowledge can be converted into words in a language, and different languages have different kinds of feel. The Bengali language, for example, is lyrical and flows very smoothly; this reflects in the Bengali culture where people talk incessantly and expressively. The English language has limited emotive expressiveness, which reflects in the English being known for a “stiff upper lip”; the limited vocabulary on emotion is the hallmark of the English speaking world where expressing your feelings is regarded as “weakness”. French, Italian, and Spanish conversely are far more passionate languages, while German and Dutch are disciplined, meticulous, and controlled. The qualities inherent in the language can also be observed in the population that uses the language: you will find the French, Spanish, and Italians take a far greater interest in art, music, poetry, literature, food, etc. while you will see that the Germans excel far more in engineering and industrialization.
Every aspect of our culture—from deep cultural values to words, to thinking and emotions, to the products of the thinking manifest in society and work—is permeated by different forms.
Some societies—e.g. French—prefer beauty over renunciation and wealth. Other societies—e.g. Germans—prefer wealth and renunciation. American society is about fame and wealth. While Chinese society is centered on power. The Indian culture in the recent past has emphasized renunciation because the country is now poor. Owing to this, people who have grown up under austere conditions, have done rather well materially where frugality was required—e.g. computers, startups, or technology. By the same token, Indians haven’t done as well in pure sciences or arts because the culture did not emphasize beauty.
The diversity in this world is a byproduct of the six qualities mentioned above, in which knowledge is common for everyone, but the other five—i.e. renunciation, power, wealth, fame, and beauty, are not always shared. Therefore, the ideas, thoughts, words, and material objects are all modified in different ways. What we call “cultural diversity” has its origins in our relative emphasis on the secondary five qualities.
The Vaishnava theory of beauty is centered on the personality of Lord Viṣṇu who is the form of the six qualities. Everything emanates from His form, but the emanations combine the six qualities to various degrees. The diversity we see in this world is a product of the original form—Lord Viṣṇu.
Beauty is just one of the six qualities, and beauty is secondary to knowledge. Owing to this fact, it is more important to present the right knowledge whether or not it is done aesthetically. Mere aesthetics without the firm truth content cannot be considered beautiful because it is not true. Conversely, true knowledge presented in a not-so-aesthetic manner will be true, although not beautiful. Nevertheless, it is better to have ugly truth rather than beautiful lies, because knowledge precedes beauty.
The term “beauty” indicates embellishments in prose or poetry. Similarly, “renunciation” indicates objectivity and analytic thinking by which science or philosophy is created. Thus, both art and science are different expressions of ideas, but the scientific theories combine ideas with renunciation or objectivity, while artistic pictures, music, poetry, etc. combine ideas with beauty.
People sometimes think that knowledge involves analytic and rational thinking due to which it is more objective, while creativity and art involve synthetic thinking due to which is more subjective. This idea is very popular, but it has no logical foundation because—as we saw above—art cannot exist without a subject, and that subject is conceptual, although not artistic. In both art and science, therefore, the foundation of creation and creativity is knowledge or jnana. The same Absolute Truth can be expressed as art, music, or poetry, or as philosophy, science, and mathematics. These are, however, just different expressions or branches of knowledge—one combining knowledge with beauty and the other with renunciation.
Similarly, knowledge can be combined with the other three attributes—power, wealth, and fame. The combination of knowledge and power produces politics. The combination of knowledge and wealth produces economics. And the mingling of knowledge and fame produces sociology (the Sanskrit word for fame is yashasvi which means a hero; the combination of knowledge and heroism creates the narrations about heroes by which a person is raised to a mythical ideal; heroes are moral, they save us, they give us hope and deliver justice; finally, heroes are always winners; society is built on role models or heroes). Depending on which kind of value dominates in which society, we can find a stronger manifestation of that type of quality among the people-to-people interactions. For example, when power, fame, and wealth are dominant in a society, we find ongoing debates about politics, social organization, and economic policy. Conversely, when knowledge, beauty, and renunciation dominate a society, we will find most people interested in science, philosophy, arts, poetry, literature, drama, and music.
The Many Forms of Aestheticism
There are many definitions of beauty, but based on the above, we can see that they are combined with other ideas such as power, fame, renunciation, and wealth. Impressionism is a definition of beauty that combines beauty with wealth; it creates rich, colorful, and vibrant pictures which are indicative of rich, colorful, and vibrant society. Minimalism combines beauty with renunciation or objectivity, thereby reducing art to industrial design as applied to the creation of real-world objects; it depends on the idea of frugality, minimizing the embellishments, and parsimony. Fauvism combines beauty with power, making the artist having greater authority over reality than reality over the artist; the artist is allowed broader and thicker brushstrokes as if he or she were defining the nature of reality rather than representing it. Expressionism is the converse effect of feeling helpless against the oppression of worldly power which results in a disturbed psyche, distorted perception, hallucination, and fear.
Are there many definitions of beauty? No, there is a perfect form of beauty. But, this perfect form can be combined with other forms of power, fame, renunciation, and wealth, thereby producing newer forms of beauty. Each of these forms of beauty can then be used to express some content or idea. This approach to studying aesthetics not only explains the myriad definitions of beauty but also helps us see why there is an original form that is modified through combination with other forms.
Effects of the Three Modes of Nature
In the material world, the six qualities are also combined with the three modes of nature—sattva, rajas, and tamas. In this, sattva represents the true form or idea, rajas indicates the modification of this true form by a mode that expresses activity, fluidity, and passion, while tamas is the modification of the true mode that expresses dark, depressing, inert, and resistive. Thus, the ideal forms are manifest only in sattva-guna. They are distorted by rajo-guna and tamo-guna. This entails that not all the form mixing in this world is ideal even though these mixtures are produced from the ideal. Not only do the three modes of nature increase the variety produced from the six qualities, but they also produce much that is unlike the nature of the original form due to rajo-guna and tamo-guna. For example, Impressionism is a mixture of beauty and wealth in the mode of rajo-guna as the pictures are fluid and brisk. Minimalism, by contrast, is a combination of beauty and renunciation in the mode of tamo-guna because the art thus produced appears rigid, heavy, inert, and resistive.
Transcendence doesn’t mean rejection of variety. It only means rejection of rajo-guna and tamo-guna. Once these two modes (acting as distortions) are removed, the original form of Lord Viṣṇu, as the personification of knowledge, beauty, renunciation, fame, power, and wealth is revealed. That is when we can get a glimpse of the true forms that make up the variety in the world.
The variety in the world is comprised of two components: (1) the original six qualities of Lord Viṣṇu, and (2) the distortion of these qualities by the three modes of nature. The impersonalist rejects the material world because he thinks that the world is simply the three modes of nature. The personalist accepts the material world in sattva-guna because he or she knows that the world is based on six qualities. The enjoyment of the material diversity under sattva-guna—with the proper understanding that this variety is manifested from Lord Viṣṇu’s original form—is the proper platform for real art and aesthetics.
Art can be used both in the depiction of that original form of Lord Viṣṇu, as well as in the day-to-day life where qualities of His form are used to create useful things like clothes, houses, food, utensils, etc. In seeing the forms of the Lord in pictures, we see the original form of beauty and knowledge. In seeing the things that we use in day-to-day life as produced from the form of Lord Viṣṇu, we see their connection to the Lord. The Lord is in everything as the six qualities. And yet He stands apart from everything as the original form of the six qualities. Lord Viṣṇu in the pictures is the transcendent reality—the ideal origin of everything. Lord Viṣṇu in the day-to-day products is the immanent reality. God is both immanent and transcendent.