Beauty is not an end in itself nor is it merely a semantic concept that may translate into French as “jolie” or into Italian as “bello”. Beauty is something of far greater width, breadth and depth; it may refer as much to individuals as to objects, to ways of doing things, to production processes even. It’s only in the eighteenth century, though, that beauty comes to be used to speak of objects with reference to their strictly aesthetic value. Before the concept of “taste” came into vogue, beauty was never used in reference to artefacts and was hence not a part of what the Ancients called “poetics”, that is the science and art of production. A viable enough connotation of beauty is the concept of “good”. Plato was especially keen about this possible association and his ideas are picked up by Pope John Paul II in his open letter to artists, first published in 1999 and quoted in a monographic issue of the journal Arkitekton in October 2003 (La lettera del Papa agli artisti. Gli artisti rispondono al Papa. – Letter of the Pope to artists. The artists reply to the Pope.)
“At seeing that what had been made was good, God also saw that it was beautiful. The relationship between good and beauty raises stimulating reflections. Beauty is in a way the visible expression of good, as good is the metaphysical condition of beauty. The ancient Greeks appreciated this unity; by fusing the two concepts and coining a term embracing both, ”kalokagathia”, that is “beauty-good”. In Plato’s word’s, ”the power of Good has taken shelter in the nature of Beauty”.
On the basis of these considerations it appears that beauty is what is spiritually closest to the Godhead. Beauty is that quality capable of arousing love and emotions by virtue of its essential characteristic, which is that of appearing perfect. From this definition, which is quite common and may be easily found under the entry “beauty” in many dictionaries, it may be presumed that beauty and the pursuit of perfection are closely linked. It’s a point of view also endorsed by the philosopher Thomas Aquinas when he reflects on the two ways perfection has of manifesting itself, and namely the material, which is performance-based as it is seen in the outcome of an action or set of actions, and the intentional, which lies in the scope at the root of an action or set of actions. When these two aspects coincide, then we may speak of absolute perfection.
These reflections may not be all that easy to grasp, but they’re not all that alien to corporate ideas and practices. At illycaffè, for instance, the two key values that permeate all our activity are a passionate commitment to excellence, understood as a primary expression of beauty, and a dedicated commitment to things well done and to the ethics of our doing, which we take to be an extensive, long-term value affecting the quality of life in general. And both can be said to spring from the same source and namely, the pursuit of perfection.
The monographic issue of Arkitekton, October 2003, Letter of the Pope to artists. The artists reply to the Pope.