Aesthetics in Mineral Collecting

Well, let us start with the obvious: “Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder”. Thus, when I try to cover “aesthetics”, it is fair to say that I only speak for myself. 


I would also like to distinguish my understanding of aesthetics from the often used phrase of superior specimen quality. The latter typically involves superlatives like: the best (often mixed up with biggest) of its kind, the highest value, totally unrepaired, ... Well, this may be a criteria for many, but it isn't for me. What is the worth of the best, if tomorrow someone finds a better one? The most expensive one? Market players always seem to find ways to make a highly priced specimen even more expensive (e.g. by trading among themselves for an arbitrary gain). And finally: unrepaired? Considering the circumstances many minerals are mined (and have been tectonically stressed since their genesis aeons ago), a repair seems to be a normal thing to do in order to preserve something great (many old masterpieces in paintings had to be restored before they went on display in art museums). Of course, if you look for the elite an unrepaired top specimen can be the icing on the cake. However, I much rather look for the unique aesthetics and be more forgiving on the fact that it may have needed some help to shine like now. 


For what it is worth, a truly aesthetic specimen selected to my very own criteria will remain an aesthetic choice for me, regardless of time and supply. This will always be my primary driver to collect.
 

You are welcome to share some of my thoughts while disagreeing with others.

What is Aesthetics?

Aesthetics (from ancient Greek αἴσθησις aísthēsis "perception", "sensation") was until the 19th century primarily the study of beauty, regularities and harmony in nature and art.
 

Aesthetics literally means: the study of perception or sensory perception. Accordingly, everything that moves our senses when we look at it is aesthetic: Beautiful, ugly, pleasant and unpleasant. A doctrine that deals only with beautiful things is called callistics.


In everyday language, the term aesthetic is now often used as a synonym for beautiful, tasteful, or appealing. In science, in a narrower sense, the term refers to the qualities that have an influence on how people evaluate something from the beauty point of view. In a broader sense, aesthetic refers to the qualities that influence how something affects us.

(Source: Wikipedia)

Love at first sight?

First point of attraction

When a specimen in a case captivates me at first glance this is typically determined by two factors: color and shape.
 

While just being colorful may not be sufficient to call a specimen truly aesthetic, colors do relate to me very easily and directly. Whether strong colors or pastell-like ones is not important. When they are clean and distinct I will most likely fall for them, particularly for rainbow colors.
 

The shape of the specimen resonates with me immediately next, particularly for non-colorful mineral specimens. There are shapes that are distinctly attractive to me and thus can be found quite often in my collection: V-shapes (victories), X-shapes (crosses), bursts, fans, sprays, or sometimes epitomes of lifeforms like trees, bunches or even animals and mystique creatures.

In most cases I quickly know 'this is it' (like love at first sight). If that does not happen I cannot be talked into liking it emotionally, even though I may appreciate the specimen from an intellectual point of view after some explanation by a profiscient mind.
 

In trying to understand why I feel love for certain specimens I have come up with a total of 6 criteria that seem to play a role. However, I hardly ever use them in an analytical approach to come to a like or dislike decision. I believe they can only be applied retrospectively to describe what may have happened before already.

1. Composition

I like to refer to all macroscopic properties of a specimen that determine its physical presence as composition.

a. Shape

I have already gone about the shape as a major factor for the physical appearance that I am looking for. While a shape can be described very generically there are some fine details that may determine the level of perfection of such shape. I am very much into expressive forms of all sorts, I do not like flat specimens but rather main crystals in a vertical arrangement.

b. Proportion

Proportion is very much about the ratio of sizes you find in a specimen, like of its main mineral and its associations/matrix and the specimen as a whole. I am focused on questions like: how does the main crystal compare to its surrounding crystals within a group, or how is the main crystal in relation to its associating minerals and/or the matrix? Is there an appealing dynamic in crystal sizes across the specimen or is it boringly even?

c. Balance

Although not completely unrelated to proportion, for me balance is more about the position of the features across the specimen. I am concerned about: Is there a clear center of gravity? Does it have a “golden cut” harmony? Does the specimen have a decent horizon? Is it well defined against the background? Does it have a non-disturbed viewing angle and orientation showing best all its features?

d. Juxtaposition

This term is often used to describe unusual combinations of shapes and their balance. I love stack-ups of mineral species, rare combinations of patterns and forms (like a sphere on a cube) and unexpected counterpoints in a specimen.

2. Texture

To me texture summarizes properties that you can only spot when proper light is present around the specimen (“All cats are grey at night”). Color and contrast are the two most important visual properties of a mineral specimen and hence are the ones that are the easiest to grasp even for the untrained eye.

e. Color

Colorful minerals always tend to capture me. Some need backlighting in order to produce their inherent colors, others are of such clarity (often referred to as „open color“) that they voluntarily show off their true colors. Intense colors, pure and distinct are the main attraction of a mineral to me. A high lustre can improve the visual even more. However, sometimes color gradients caused by inclusions (like Rutiles in Quartz) and or velvety surface patterns (like on Malachite boytroids) can add a little something to it.

f. Contrast

Almost inseparable from color is contrast. How well is the main mineral separating from its own background of matrix? Do the colors allow for enough destinction? Do they work in harmony of some kind (like Itten’s complementary colors)? Is it black on white – the strongest contrast we know of? Or color on white or black, or even on grey? There are many ways how contrast can make a specimen desirable to me.

3. Character

Now, this is a bit of an odd-ball. It can actually turn something that is generally not desired into a feature that gives the specimen the distinction over similar ones. A specimen with a remarkable level of character may not score high in many of the other criteria but is still something to behold.

g. Extravagance

An extravagant mineral specimen has like its own personality. Even some “little flaws” may support the extravagance of a piece, like some dramatic iron stains or chlorite inclusions or superficial sprinkles. It can also be about the crystal showing dissolution patterns (etching), pseudomorphing (transition of one mineral into another) or hollow crystals. These features can be compared to freckles or laugh wrinkles on a human face that make it lovably imperfect.

h. Uniqueness

Very closely related is also the uniqueness of look. A visual not seen before, hard-to-match resemblances, like a rare form of a common mineral, or a unexpected combination of minerals. It could be like a one-in-a-million find, a freak-of-nature. There are myriads of Quartz specimen, but among these there occasionally is one that really sticks out. This is what I am looking for.

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