On Sunsets in St Andrews

Deanna Rand wanted to keep her first Arts article for Label focused on something universally appreciated, inexpensive and globally-recognisable. Something inclusive, a shared human experience and her thoughts on it. She didn’t know what she was going to choose until yesterday, when, interrupting her typical student-day, came sunsets.


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It’s 7:00pm in a top floor flat on North Street. Find: two students exchanging details of growing to-do lists. Enter: a third body into the living room. ‘Stop’, she says. ‘Look out the window’.

Conversation halts for one of the most beautiful sunsets in St Andrews. We turn the lights off and sit in the dusk.

We talk about sunsets.

Some background: Sunlight is composed of a spectrum of colours. During sunrise or sunset, sunlight takes longer to pass through the atmosphere. More violet and blue light scatters out of the beam before it reaches our eyes. When the light finally reaches the human eye, it appears reddened.

The criteria for the very best sunsets are high clouds. High clouds are hit by the sun’s rays before they pass through the lower atmosphere, where air has more particles. Bight reds and oranges are filtered through at the high cloud’s level.

So, where does that leave me in that second floor flat on North Street? And what does it mean for this article?

Sunsets are one of the rare things that can unanimously be perceived as beautiful. Across all languages, cultures and geographical locations, no one can point at a sunset and claim that it is disgusting.

But why do we find them so beautiful?

The fact that a sunset doesn’t last, pressures us to enjoy it in the moment, or it’s gone. They’re ephemeral. People are more likely to respond to something if they only have a limited window of time to appreciate it.

 

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We could argue that there’s a universal code for beauty, something evolutionarily ingrained in our homo sapien brain. The sunset would have signalled to us the end of the day, a feeling of safety in being back at camp before the sun sets and darkness descends.

Is it because they only happen once in our day? If the sky was consistently red, and our sunsets, blue, would we look to the blue sunsets as something aesthetically beautiful? And although they only happen once a day, they still happen every day, 365 days a year, and never lose their ephemeral beauty.

The theory of the sublime in nature, is a theory that argues that natural landscapes can produce a feeling of overwhelming emotion in ourselves, through their properties of being vast or grand (similar to the fear I found in my workload on a Monday of Week 1). Except sunsets are art; art we don’t create by putting the tip of a paintbrush to canvas. Rather, it’s art that happens every day, without us lifting a finger.

It’s art we can appreciate just by looking out a window of a second floor flat on North Street.

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