You know you’re going bats from being inside too long when you find yourself taking pictures of your back porch floor. This cold is into its sixth day, and along with trying to avoid watching the vice-presidential debates, I’ve washed every launderable item in the house, and when not dozing in bed, have been noodling around on the Web. What have I learned? Well, I spent a couple of profitable hours perusing and copying various computer tips from over 800 commenters on David Pogue’s New York Times blog. I also found out that the reason I lost weight this week might not be because my cold zapped my appetite, but because I wasn’t thinking. According to the Times, thinking, solving problems, causes us to eat 25% more than if we were just sitting around doing nothing (but does thinking also burn calories? This question was not addressed). Even though it was one of those studies with a sample size of only 14 subjects that makes you wonder how anyone would have the chutzpah to publish it, it’s clearly accurate: I’ve been downstairs to the refrigerator three times just since starting to write this. I also read a piece by Michael Kimmelman about an adult education school in England that seemed to be written simply as an excuse to cite another study—this time with only12 subjects—which sought to prove that pain can mitigated by beauty. The finding was a “reduced response to pain when the subject looked at the beautiful [rather than a selection of “ugly”] paintings.” Hardly a surprise to those of us who spend time pounding the pavements of Chelsea and are therefore familiar with the ratio of foot pain to good and bad art.
It makes me wonder why our culture so resolutely refuses to acknowledge that, like clean air, water, and food, beauty is a human need (and I’d even go even further to say that it is —along with chocolate, or as perhaps exemplified by chocolate—a reason for existence). Society does, however, recognize its importance in a backwards way because the first thing it does to punish criminals is deprive them of beauty. The public would scream if anyone attempted to paint prison walls yellow—or for that matter, nursery school walls gray. Jails would not be jails if they looked like Versailles and inmates were served French food by cute guys in knee-length pants. But rather than admit the obvious, we have this oxymoron of an Italian academic trying to prove the efficacy of beauty by inflicting pain on his subjects (who now may flinch every time they see a reproduction of Van Gogh’s Starry Night). Assessing all of this has caused me to take Arthur Danto’s thought-provoking The Abuse of Beauty: Aesthetics and the Concept of Art off the shelf again—a sign that I must be getting better—but I’m afraid to start re-reading it because it could make me fat.