Where Did Beauty Go?

“All artists are after beauty,” you hear people say.  But go to an art gallery or museum of modern art and see if that’s true.  Few or none of the works show you beauty.  Most are a sort of plastic journalism—their aim is social criticism. They put before you Women’s Rights or The Bankrupt Consumer Society or Evil War or some such other revindication.  Many other works of art are experiments in form or in materials.   A lot of them are funny—perhaps they make you smile at some incongruency.  Beauty is nowhere—it is as if it has been given up by artists.  In fact, downright ugliness is sometimes peddled, as if to hurry some evolution away from beauty. Why?   Is beauty no longer possible?  Was it an ideal that has become outdated?

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9 Responses to Where Did Beauty Go?

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  2. Ion Danu says:

    You are right about a lot of things, G! Only one problem: what’s Beauty? Because, in my knowlegde there are a lot of definitions (mostly by estheticians, since Esthetics is suppose to be the SCIENCE of the Beauty…) and none which is unanimously agreed upon…

    In my opinion, an artist opinion, not a critic or esthetician – beauty is something that nobody can define (not in words, at least…) and everybody agree upon… Something which music is much more close to. Good music, true music. You just KNOW it’s good, you FEEL it’s good… just as you know a good Van Gogh (take his Branches d’amandier en fleurs, for instance) or a great Velasquez IS beauty…

    And you are right: in exhibitions, in galleries and in Museums – a ocean of merde is drowning the beauty which still exists here and there… Especially with the modern art or the so called modern: always trying to shock for the shock’s sake, always trying to be “original” when originality is something that flows (or not) out of you…

  3. 100swallows says:

    To Danu
    I didn’t want to define beauty just now. I’ll bring up definitions by some of the philosophers soon. Of course all along this blog I’ve been talking about the classical ideal of beauty but other ones will do. What I meant here was beauty as the painter’s PRIORITY. He says:”Look how pretty!” and NOT “Look how silly, look how unfair, look how deep, look how disgusting, look how curious, look how daring”—or simply, “Look, damn it!”

  4. lbtowers says:

    Hmmmm. And here is my take on this debate. First of all, are we talking about the painter’s or the artist’s “responsibility”? Two different things in my book. A painter is a technician. Painters can become artists. Many do not. A painter tends to want to please the viewers eye and to dazzle with the illusion of reality if he is a representational painter. If he is a non-representational painter, then technique goes out the window and the painter is merely trying to impress with some kind of modernistic bravado that quite frankly looks outdated at this juncture.

    So let’s talk about the artist and leave the silly painters out of this. I believe that the artist owes it to society to leave behind some indication about what the world was like in her day (do you like how I switched gender?) In that way, as Thomas Hart Benton, a great philosopher about art says, art that transcends mere beauty becomes historically important to mankind.

    Do we need pretty things to look at? Yes. Colorful flowers cheer us up. Pretty days at the beach makes us feel good. But this is not a pretty time we live in, and I personally think that artists are correct in expressing that.

  5. 100swallows says:

    Welcome aboard, Lisa. Thanks for writing.
    I didn’t know we were talking about anybody’s responsibility. None of those artists starts out driven by duty. They do what they like, they please themselves. Don’t you go giving the IRS ideas–next they’ll put a special tax on the poor artist as part of his social responsibility.

    Silly painters “dazzle with the illusion of reality” or “merely try to impress, etc.”. Yeah. They shouldn’t, the bastards. The artist has something to say-right?–or something to show. Now you think nowadays it isn’t beauty because the world is ugly and the responsible artist must “indicate” that for posterity. I don’t know Tom Benton but he sure shows in that quote where he sticks “mere beauty”.

    I guess most people think like you: that if it’s between beauty and really “important matters”, for god’s sake, dump beauty. Beauty to them is just candy, or even a drug to escape from the grim facts of existence. But it’s surprising to hear you, a good painter, talk like that.
    But, anyway, it’s a free world (not really) and the artist can do whatever he wants to. He can choose to “transcend” beauty and go out and indicate for future generations what the world is like–that’s his business. Let him indicate. Apparently few will ever notice that beauty is missing or are sorry about that.

  6. lbtowers says:

    An interesting argument to be sure. I think that indeed, the artist does have a responsibility. The days of the Rennaisance, when artists were considered omnipotently “creative”, a term until then reserved only for God, are over. Sometimes the responsibility is to support a family, sometimes it is farther reaching as I mentioned before. And typically, artists don’t do what they like if they have to make a living. They do what will sell, unfortunately.

    Tom Benton was an important painter of the 20th Century. He was one of the few regionalists, and his book called “An American in Art” is a very interesting read on this subject.

    Finally, I disagree that most people think like me. The masses are not painters/artists. To them “pretty” is most important. They would dearly miss their sappy Thomas Kincade paintings of cozy cottages the minute they were to disappear from the shelf.

  7. 100swallows says:

    Hi Lisa:
    You mix kinds of responsibility. When you speak of the artist’s duty to indicate to later generations the look of his time you mean some kind of social or moral responsibility. But then you use the same word to speak about the personal obligations an artist has contracted, such as raising a family. There’s at least one more kind, which is the legal “responsibility” she (I can change too!) or anyone has to produce work that isn’t defective or somehow a cheat.
    I didn’t start this talk about responsibility—you did. The post was about beauty.

    There’s another semantic problem: the word “artist”. Here I guess I’m the one who mixes. I always mean the artist genius—those BEST artists of my blog, not the painter day-laborers or the otherwise competent painters and sculptors of a given time. By “art” I mean something not easily reached. I guess I can even be caught using art as a synonym for beauty. I certainly never meant to talk about “pretty” (kitsch).

    Yet another word-hitch: PEOPLE. Sometimes we (both you and I) mean the average buyer of paintings and sometimes we (maybe only I ) mean the painters. I was sorry the PAINTERS had thrown out beauty. You are like them in that you believe in their duty to indicate the ugly side of this life.

    What idea do you have of the Renaissance? Life was very hard even for the “stars” like Michelangelo, though in the end he became rich. They had to serve silly and capricious patrons and they too had families to raise (not Mike, though he worried all his life about his relatives) and bills to pay. The average “artist” lived at a very modest level.

    If the artist (my rare girl) can’t please herself and paint as she likes to, then she can’t produce the real thing. A lot of art was done on commission of course but the artist did things her way.

  8. lbtowers says:

    Do you own a Kincade?

  9. 100swallows says:

    To Lisa
    I went to look Kincade up, Lisa, and, heck, what to say? He enjoys doing those paintings and his public certainly enjoys looking at them. My Mom would buy one. Those are what most people mean by a painting. You can’t fight against that. I can spend more time studying one of his kitschy things than the stuff I see in snobby galleries and exhibitions. They are a comforting simplification of human nature and, though lazy in details and thought, they have the advantage of a clear, universal language and message.
    One more thing: they are imagined scenes, most of them, drawn out of his head. When most painters, even skilled ones, draw that way instead of copying, look what comes out! Other conventions, other platitudes.

    I will get hold of your book by Tom Benton. I’m curious. Thanks.

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