Saturday, January 5, 2013

Avian Aesthetics

I was having a stressful morning. I had so much to do, many deadlines were approaching,  I was sick, and I had to interrupt everything to deal rather urgently with an issue having to do with a non-profit on whose board I serve. It was all just too much.

I stepped away from my computer for a few minutes to look out the window and take a few breaths.

Lots of birds were feeding on the ground ...

Purple Grackles and Rusty Blackbirds

... and little birds were flying in and out of the feeder that is stuck on my office window.

Tufted Titmouse at Window Feeder

As I watched the birds, I felt myself growing calmer, and I even felt a quiet happiness.

I asked myself, “What about these birds is making me feel happy and calm?” and the thoughts flowed into me in this little epiphany of understanding:

It's like looking at a sunset -- beautiful, calming, serene.
Sunset, Early Winter, at Home

But why does looking at birds calm me, and move me emotionally, in the same way?

Epiphany: The birds appeal to me aesthetically. That's the real heart of it.

It's like looking at art. 
The Annunciation. Tempera and oil glazes on panel, c.1423/1424.
Masolino da Panicale (Florentine, c.1383-1435)
The National Gallery, Washington, D.C.
The Annunciation. (Detail) Tempera and oil glazes on panel, c.1423/1424.
Masolino da Panicale (Florentine, c.1383-1435)
The National Gallery, Washington, D.C.

I like looking at art and enjoying all the ways that art moves and delights me: color, texture, light, shape, depth, movement.

Madonna Enthroned with Saints. (detail) Tempera on panel, c.1354.
Puccio di Simone (Florentine, mid-14th century) and
Allegretto Nuzi (Umbrian, c1315-1373).
The National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.

Looking at art appeals to me on many levels: visceral, visual, intellectual, and emotional. 

The Repentant Magdalene. Oil on canvas, c.1640.
Georges de la Tour (French, 1593-1652)

The National Gallery, Washington, D.C.

Looking at birds moves me in the same way: visceral, visual, intellectual, and emotional.

I like the way their feathers form patterns of color, shape, and texture.

Downy Woodpecker on Elm Branch

The shapes of their wings move me. The patterns of their flight intrigue me. 

Purple Grackles and Rusty Blackbirds

The promise of flight is in their very forms.

Juvenile Cooper's Hawk

Their cryptic colors are a mystery and a delight.

Screech Owl Roosting in Old Oak Tree

Birds' colors are sometimes impossible to believe, whether in brightness of hue...

Blue Jay on Elm Branch

... or in depth and complexity.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

  Is anything whiter than a gull's breast, or a swan's wing?

Mute Swan, Fannie Stebbins Wildlife Preserve,
Longmeadow, Mass.

The startling black of a chickadee's cap delights me every day, and I love the way the colors of these tiny sprites blend in with ice, snow, and branch:

Black-capped Chickadee in the Wisteria, with Frost

The female cardinal's ensemble could have come from the imagination of Chanel or Worth, and the male Rose-Breasted Grosbeak is elegance itself:

Rose-breasted Grosbeak at the Feeder

Looking at art is an aesthetic experience.

Looking at birds is – for me – a comparable aesthetic experience.

Downy Woodpecker in the Snow, on Elm Branch

That is all.

 Text and photos © Quodlibet 2012-2013.  All rights reserved.
All photos taken with an IPhone 4.

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