Stendhal said, “Beauty is the promise of happiness”, but this didn’t get to the heart of the matter. Whose beauty are we talking about? Whose happiness?
Consider if a snake made art. What would it believe to be beautiful? What would it deign to make? Snakes have poor eyesight and detect the world largely through a chemosensory organ, the Jacobson’s organ, or through heat-sensing pits. Would a movie in its human form even make sense to a snake? So their art, their beauty, would be entirely alien to ours: it would not be visual, and even if they had songs they would be foreign; after all, snakes do not have ears, they sense vibrations. So fine art would be sensed, and songs would be felt, if it is even possible to conceive that idea.
From this perspective – a view low to the ground – we can see that beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder. It may cross our lips to speak of the nature of beauty in billowy language, but we do so entirely with a forked tongue if we do so seriously. The aesthetics of representing beauty ought not to fool us into thinking beauty, as some abstract concept, truly exists. It requires a viewer and a context, and the value we place on certain combinations of colors or sounds over others speaks of nothing more than preference. Our desire for pictures, moving or otherwise, is because our organs developed in such a way. A snake would have no use for the visual world.
I am thankful to have human art over snake art, but I would no doubt be amazed at serpentine art. It would require an intellectual sloughing of many conceptions we take for granted. For that, considering the possibility of this extreme thought is worthwhile: if snakes could write poetry, what would it be?
by Derek Halm