Ex-DICE intern (programming, 3 months). I study how awesomeness works for hours every day, because I want to understand how to make awesome art. Most of my knowledge comes from personal research, reinforced by plenty of reading of online material. I'm currently studying Computer Graphics Programming. My goal in life is to share and improve myself and others.
Posts by Julien Delavennat
  1. Games are Art: an elephant in the room ( Counting comments... )
  2. Players don't want their games to smell of money ( Counting comments... )
  3. The Novelty vs Familiarity Paradox ( Counting comments... )
  4. A functional definition of Beauty ( Counting comments... )
  5. Open-mindedness 101 ( Counting comments... )
  6. Don't be "that guy"... but how ? ( Counting comments... )
  7. My design method: how do we actually design ? ( Counting comments... )
  8. My design method: Interweaving ( Counting comments... )
Advocacy / Audio / Game Design / Visual Arts /

[Edit: check the comments]

I've been holding off posting for about two months because I either didn't have time to post, or I didn't feel my posts were solid enough.

Now that both those problems have been fixed, here's my new post about beauty.

In my last post about open-mindedness I hinted at the importance of the comfort zone, and I'm going to talk about it in this post, amongst other things.

I've also promised a post on education, and a post on game design. Both are coming, and will be pretty nice as far as I know, but they'll come later.

So, a functional definition of beauty, and how it relates to the audience's comfort zone.

But let's start with ugliness. Ugliness is a subjective characteristic attributed to some things by an observer, based on whether these things match or don't match certain criteria: a thing is judged ugly by a certain standard or set of standards. What the criteria are isn't important since they can change over time. What's important is that we judge things by association. The fundamental idea of ugliness vs beauty exists for a reason, i.e. it is a heuristic used to assess whether something is good for us or not, based on what we already know. The things that look like good stuff we already know probably are things that are good for us. The same goes for ugliness: what looks like bothersome stuff probably is bothersome stuff. We treat ugliness like a problem that needs to be solved. A few solutions include keeping away from ugliness, keeping ugliness away, destroying ugliness or changing it into something else.

Now what about beauty. I think beauty can be achieved through three axes: clarity, positive evocation, and familiarity. Which all revolve around the same thing, i.e. the comfort zone. We accept beautiful things into our comfort zone, or more probably, we consider the things in our comfort zone to be beautiful. What isn't in our comfort zone but looks like things in our comfort zone will be accepted in it more easily, and will therefore also be considered beautiful. Put more simply, "good for us"<=>"beautiful" and "unknown"<=>"cannot be accepted into the comfort zone" (One does not simply walk into the comfort zone).

Clarity or simplicity is an important aspect of beauty: if something isn't familiar to us, but is a good thing and needs to be seen as such, the faster the people realize that thing is good for them, the smaller the chance they will run away from it. If something is excessively complicated and obscure, it will take longer to see beauty through all the irrelevant stuff. If something can be instantly recognized as good for us, we won't run away. If it takes too long to identify something as "good", the greater the chance of us mistaking it for either something "bad" or "background noise". Basically, Clarity is the speed at which we can familiarize ourselves with something.

Positive Evocation is basically how things that aren't in our comfort zone get accepted inside it by looking like stuff that is already in it. If a new thing reminds us of something good we already know, we'll associate this new thing with the one we already know and accept it in our comfort zone. Basically, remind people of things they like (positive evocation) in a non-ambiguous way, and people will love what you do (note: I said we should do that. I didn't say that there isn't anything else to do. Because there is).

We learn how to appreciate things iteratively. We like A. We don't know B but it looks like A. So we'll accept B. Then there's C, which looks like B. Since we have accepted B, we'll also accept C. Do notice that we wouldn't have accepted C if we had come across it without having come across B previously.

Example: why do heavily-stereotyped movies sell more than intricate works of art ? Well, because people are simple-minded (I said simple-minded, not stupid: kids are simple-minded, and whoever doesn't get educated, stays a kid), and prefer watching things they already know they will like after watching the trailer. Note: There's something else going on here, I'll talk about rationalization and why critics find badly stereotyped things terrible in a later post.

Still: we gravitate towards beauty. We also gravitate towards familiar things. Well, because they are both the same for us: we can only like things that match our criteria of what beauty consists of. Except, we could ask ourselves, can "Beauty" change our current standards, maybe in a "love at first sight" way ? I wouldn't say "change" as much as "rearranging our existing criteria regarding one another". For example, we might not have considered combining trait A and trait B, but the result is really nice.

Example: why we should introduce art to people progressively. People have to be able to relate to the artworks. They have to understand what is beautiful about the artworks. If your audience isn't used to certain things, they won't be able to accept them as easily. The thing here is, there isn't really a clear difference between "familiar" and "unfamiliar". Everything is more or less familiar, has different traits, some of which resemble things we know, while others are new to us. Take music genres for example. Most people have at least listened to Rock at least a few times, and probably like it. Well, Metal is somewhat related to Rock, since the same instruments are used. But someone who listens to Rock doesn't necessarily listen to or even like Metal, because, well, obviously it isn't Rock. But if you listen to Punk Rock or Melodic Metalcore, you might have a hard time differentiating them in certain cases. That's because they have common traits. As far as I know, to appreciate something new, you just need to see it as a further variation of something you already know and understand.

Example: why are people xenophobic ? Because we do not know what foreigners might do differently from us. "Foreign people -> maybe there are some unknown differences -> we can't accept them for sure -> we need to keep away from them". That's the xenophobic line of thinking at least. The problem here is unfamiliarity and suspicion: we don't want to take risks. We need to study the risks from far away (but not too far, we need to still be able to observe what they do). Keeping away but keeping an eye on something is called familiarization. Even in the first second of coming across something familiar but unexpected, our brain will freeze during the time it is analyzing this thing, before finally determining there's nothing to worry about. We just want to keep away from ugliness :].

To conclude: Beauty is subjective, and people need keys to unlock the beauty in things they're not familiar with yet. You could say that the comfort zone is like a key holder. And the different keys on it are the criteria from the standards used by people to assess the beauty of things.
The ability to look for beauty in everything is called open-mindedness. I've talked about that last time.
The speed at which the beauty of something can be unlocked is called clarity and simplicity. We find beauty faster in things that evoke things we already like.

So take away these three axes - Beauty is:
-Clarity
-Positive Evocation
-Familiarity

Well, everything went better than expected n___n
I wasn't certain to manage to write this post without sounding too pedantic or vague.

Anyway, thanks for reading, have a nice day/evening :D.

See you next time n____n