Stendhal calls beauty “the promise of happiness”. He gives beauty an invigorating function, one that serves nature.
Art, says the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, is a bridge to the peace of extinction. He accepts Kant´s statement that art is disinterested—that is, it is of no apparent use or interest to the beholder and yet it pleases.What could the explanation for that be?
Schopenhauer fits it right into his pessimistic view of the world: it gives us a temporary rest from the struggle of life. He finds the world a mishappened place where all its creatures seem to be made to suffer. So getting the hell out of here, even just in one´s imagination, should be our goal. The sense of peace that comes during artistic contemplation is a foretaste of the final peace that will come to us when this trial period is over.
This “bridge to the peace of extinction” (change here to “immortality”) and “promise of happiness” is also what Marcel Proust is recherch-ing, though art to him seems to be only another way to evoke timeless, pleasurable, experiences.
To Nietzsche beauty was something pretty raw—the lures of nature to copulate and exercise power. He doesn´t believe in this “disinterested” contemplation. “Hogwash,” he says. “Artists certainly weren´t disinterested in their models (wink, wink).” Which is a pretty dumb thing to say, coming from a great philosopher. “How is it,” asks Kant, “that we can stand before a statue and get pleasure from looking at it, though there´s nothing in it for us?” That the artist kisses his model ten times during the execution of his work has nothing to do with this question. Nietzsche was of course underlining the invigorating force of natural beauty on the artist. What sort of reaction does his canvas or statue get from the viewer?–that’s the question.