Beauty Makes You a Slave

The philosopher Spinoza thought beauty was a dangerous thing.  It calls to unreason.  Only rational man is free (freedom is his highest ideal) so man must not cultivate the irrational, i.e. what makes him a slave.

This is reminiscent of Plato.  He won´t allow either the painter or the poet into his Republic.  They imitate the inferior part of one´s soul, he says—that which is easiest to imitate but which is an enemy to reason and even common sense.  They foster all the wrong things (the “right” things are “the useful things”—useful to society, but also useful to the individual, to his ability to live and carry on.).  When you are down and alone, for instance, it is unwise to dwell on your grief.  And grief is one of the favorite subjects of the poet and the tragedian.

You have to distinguish between the beauty of nature (a sunset, the naked body) and artistic beauty (a picture of a sunset, the artistic nude). In one way these are very different since art is a rendering, an interpretation of natural beauty.  Though it springs from instinct, it follows the order our reason projects on the world.
But in another way they are the same, since art is really “only”an effort to capture and make natural beauty permanent—to draw out the pleasure of it, to make it last, to improve on it, make it more intense.

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This entry was posted in aesthetics, art, art history, Beauty. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Beauty Makes You a Slave

  1. Ion Danu says:

    In my experience, nobody is free-free. so far so spinoza… As for Plato, well, useful is useful maybe, but how mundane, how boring… And most of the people, if they are not completely idiots, are down and alone when they are old… children are gone and have they own life (until they’ll be down and alone themselves… just wait a bit…) and the only thing that can give you a whiff of freedom or joy is the creative work of writers, poets, painters, sculptors etc. The only “useful” thing to keep you sane… Beauty being a by-product… a collateral benefice…

  2. 100swallows says:

    You sure dispatched Spinoza and Plato in a hurry. But I didn’t see that you refuted them. You would admit that it is reason that keeps us above the animals, reason that gives us the one chance we have to be free—or feel free. So we have to cultivate reason, strengthen it, right? Does a sentimental journey do that? Does TV (modern drama) do that? Does art (Plato hadn’t seen all the stuff we call art) make us more rational or does it rather help us escape from the mental labor of thinking? After all, it’s hard to be Man. Man would rather be a beast. He would rather not have to think, not have to be responsible, even to himself. He always looks for a way out.

    Plato would probably say that if in old age people feel they have only pretty pictures to help them through, that means those people have not cultivated philosophy (love of wisdom) all their lives. They let nature (hormones) rule them and when nature dumps them, they are despondent and resentful. Actually, they should be happy to be freer. The artist is the picture of the fool since he chases what is fleeting and deceptive. The philosopher tries to find the permanent truth of things. He is very much hindered by the hormone call. Says Plato, not necessarily 100swallows.

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