The Promise of Happiness

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.

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10 Responses to The Promise of Happiness

  1. randomyriad says:

    I think Nietzche was imply that beauty has a sensual quality and being a very intellectual fellow did not connect with that aspect well. Beauty is sensual as well as spiritual.

  2. Ion Danu says:

    Very interesting, G, very interesting! I knew some of your references, of course, because this problem was (is) of great interest to me… Shopenhauer is very close of my frame of mind (and deeply influenced by the extreme oriental philosophy! Isn’t “life is suffering” the first of Buddha’s teachings?)

    As for the “desinterested” feature of art, Oscae Wilde was even more categoric: ART IS USELESS, inutile, deprived of any usefulness (in Wilde’s esthet eyes, the bourgeois, capitalistic “usefulness” was an insult…) And, as I wrote in one on my posts on Danu’s Small World, Odilon Redon made a notation in his journal that said: “I thought art was useless. But maybe it is necessary…:

    No doubt it is, as an evasion from the cruel world, as a bridge to imortality, if you want.

    As for Nietzsche, he was a genius, no doubt, but he said a lot of silly, stupid things… and furthermore, he changed constantly his opinions (and had very few if any, convinctions…) There is a Romanian saying which, translated, would sound about like this: Where there is a lot of mind, there is also a load of crap/sillyness…
    By the way, Proust, Oscar wilde, what do they have in comon?

  3. Allen says:

    Art may to some seem useless in our efficiency crazed world, but it is hardly useless to the life of the individual who in his need to escape the pace, the hardships and banality of life finds beauty and comfort,a sense of fulfillment and loss of being when contemplating a particularly engaging or beautiful piece of artwork. As art enchants and soothes the soul, it reinvigorates the mind, puts us in touch with our humanity and in the end makes the world a better place. Very utilitarian, really.

  4. cantueso says:

    About Proust you say “… though art to him seems to be only another way to evoke timeless, pleasurable, experiences.” No. Art to him is a possible proof that our soul is immortal.

    Whether he really believed that, or whether he believed it mostly or only at times? He after all launched the notion that our ego, our core personality, is not the same all throughout our lives. He invented the term “les intermittences du coeur” to describe inner change that is so deep, he says, that we die many times throughout life.

  5. cantueso says:

    I do not know Kant that well. It would be very typical of him to figure out that art is disinterested. He would not have gone to a museum first to judge.

    However, when you see the greatest art so closely linked to religion in the past (and to banks now) you wonder just how disinterested art or the artists have ever been….

  6. 100swallows says:

    Thanks for the correction, cantueso. My sentence was surely ambiguous. I meant “to Proust as portrayed by M. Swann” art seemed just another way of prolonging a pleasureable moment. I do remember that Proust used it as a possible proof of immortality, as you have put it so well here.

  7. 100swallows says:

    Allen and Danu: I see the comments here are sometimes about art’s usefulness. That is not the same as the “interest” I wrote about, from Kant (actually from Kant through Schopenhauer, who I know better). Schopenhauer says: “The intrinsic problem of the metaphysics of the beautiful can be stated very simply: how is it possible for us to take pleasure in an object when the object has no connexion with our desires?
    “For we all feel that pleasure in a thing can really arise only from its relation to our will or, as we like to put it, our aims; so that pleasure divorced from a stimulation of the will seems to be a contradiction. Yet it is quite obvious that the beautiful as such excites pleasure in us without having any kind of connexion with our personal aims, that is to say with our will.”

  8. Allen says:

    Ok, 100swallows, I see your point, but you did say in the 2nd paragraph of the original post, “…art is disinterested—that is, it is of no apparent use or interest to the beholder and yet it pleases.” Be that as it may. It’s not important. More interesting is the connection between beauty and pleasure. I am uneasy with Schopenhauer’s assertion that “it is quite obvious that the beautiful as such excites pleasure in us without having any kind of connexion with our personal aims, that is to say with our will.” That seems to me to say that we know ourselves perfectly, perfect understanding of our will and knowledge of all our desires. I don’t think that’s the case and if it is not, it may well be that where we cannot identify the reason for our pleasure of something beautiful, some aspect of our will or desire may well exist within us but for any number of reasons remain hidden, perhaps only manifesting itself at the point where we experience pleasure in the beautiful object which touches something hidden.

    Oh well, maybe I’m missing the point entirely, since I’m yapping about something I know little about, but which for some reason gives me pleasure doing so. :) I’m off to the airport and when I get to my destination I will compare the beauty and any pleasure derived thereof from watching the sun sink into the cold, grey waters of Lake Erie with that from watching it dive into the warm blue Pacific.

  9. 100swallows says:

    That is sharp, Allen. Remember Schopenhauer has his own definition of the “will”. It is the immortal primal force. Our “aims” may simply be a vague consciousness of that force. Spinoza said it was the equivalent of gravity in objects and that if you asked a stone what it wanted to do, it would tell you, could it speak, that it wanted to FALL. So much for free will. Anyway, maybe, probably, we don’t understand our desires and there’s something we overlook–why not?
    I hope you have a nice trip home. Don’t you be unfair to Lake Erie, which was plenty good enough for us when we were growing up. I’d give a lot for a lake like her here in la Mancha.

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