There seems to be something like purely structural beauty. Some things, like an oil spill, can look beautiful as long as you don’t know or don’t think of what they are and what they mean. This is a beauty that arises on a low level of perception before interpretation sets in.
Once you understand what you are seeing, the feeling of beauty may be pushed to the background by other feelings like disgust, anger, or grief. Mostly such things make me sad. Some give me a feeling of horror. However, I am still able to access this feeling of beauty underneath the other feelings, so yes, beauty is still there because that part of my brain that produces this feeling does not know what it is seeing, it is only doing lower level processing of visual structures, like discovering lines, triangles and circles or color patterns.
The same is true for art. In purely abstract art, you only have this structural aspect. When the artist adds meaning, what he or she is expressing might be totally horrible.
The beautiful and the good, it seems, are not the same nor are they necessarily closely connected. There seem to be good things that are not beautiful and beautiful things that are not good. There is a dark side of beauty. It is morally neutral and silent. Some people who have witnessed atomic bomb explosions have noticed that the glowing mushroom clouds can be quite beautiful.
We are used to thinking of beauty as something good – and the tradition of western philosophy since Plato connected the two – but maybe that is not so. Beauty is low-level, pre-semantic and therefore it lacks empathy. The beautiful and the good may be independent dimensions, perpendicular to each other. Beauty may have a potential of being cold. In itself, outside the mind of an empathic human being, it might still exist. A psychopath might be able to feel beauty although there is no empathy in such a person.
So the positive ideas and the warmth of the hart is something we have to add.
This article is a reworked version of a comment to http://ekostories.com/2013/10/10/burtynsky-manufactured-landscapes/)