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Attitudes toward Beauty

Saturday 16 January 2016

Like others in the arts, I often find myself thinking about the word beauty, what it means in art and in the world today. Has beauty been largely forgotten or relegated to an inferior position? (If you are feeling cynical, save this reading for another day).

There are many marvelous writers on the subject and articles and books dedicated to it. This humble blog post does not intend to tackle questions of aesthetics but is merely to share with you some gleanings from various authors and thinkers that I have been reading. You could use these quotes as the basis for a lively TOK and Art discussion or debate on the importance of beauty, or maybe just as a pause for thought, and a recognition of something beautiful.

Whenever you see people doing art, whether they are amateurs at a swing dance class or a professional painter, you invariably see them trying to get better. “I am seeking. I am striving. I am in it with all my heart,” Vincent van Gogh wrote. (from David Brooks NYT article below)

Everybody approves of art

David Brooks, columnist for the New York Times writes…

“…These days we all like beautiful things. Everybody approves of art. But the culture does not attach as much emotional, intellectual or spiritual weight to beauty. We live, as Leon Wieseltier wrote in an essay for The Times Book Review, in a post-humanist moment. That which can be measured with data is valorized. Economists are experts on happiness. The world is understood primarily as the product of impersonal forces; the nonmaterial dimensions of life explained by the material ones.

Over the past century, artists have had suspicious and varied attitudes toward beauty. Some regard all that aesthetics-can-save-your-soul mumbo jumbo as sentimental claptrap. They want something grittier and more confrontational. In the academy, theory washed like an avalanche over the celebration of sheer beauty — at least for a time.” read the full article When Beauty Strikes in the New York Times, January 16, 2016

Have the arts abandoned beauty?

“The arts, whose task once was considered to be that of manifesting the beautiful, will discuss the idea only to dismiss it, regarding beauty only as the pretty, the simple, the pleasing, the mindless and the easy. Because beauty is conceived so naively, it appears as merely naïve, and can be tolerated only if complicated by discord, shock, violence, and harsh terrestrial realities. I therefor feel justified in speaking of the repression of beauty” -James Hillman

Beauty is a joke?

Beauty is the most dangerous idea in art. It's the most dangerous idea in life, too. It tantalises and confuses, inspires and crushes. Beauty has been worshipped as the highest artistic value and denigrated as a pagan temptation. Today, though, it is simply treated by the art world as a joke, a con, an idiotic, old-fashioned idea. This makes much art irrelevant, because beauty is everywhere and obsesses everyone (whatever your idea of beauty happens to be)…..

So, galleries are full of serious art that shuns beauty. And we look at it earnestly, then go and look at gorgeous photos, films, magazines – the true art of our time.-Read the rest of this article in the Guardian :When did modern art become so reluctant to embrace beauty

Is ugliness the standard?

“Beauty is mostly forgotten and made to seem naïve or romantic. The blindness of property development creates room, buildings, suburbs which lack grace and mystery. Socially this influences the atmosphere in workplaces, in schools, and the community. It also results in the degradation of the environment that we are turning more and more of our beautiful earth into a wasteland. Much of the stress and emptiness that haunts us can be traced back to our lack of attention to beauty. Internally the mind becomes course and dull if it remains unvisited by images and thoughts which hold the radiance of beauty.” John O'Donahue

"Internally the mind becomes course and dull if it remains unvisited by images and thoughts which hold the radiance of beauty.”

Beauty is calling

Irish poet John O’Donahue in his book Divine Beauty writes

“In Greek the word for “ the beautiful” is to kalon. It is related to kalein which includes the notion of “call”. When we experience beauty, we feel called. The Beautiful stirs passion and urgency in it and unites us again with the neglected and forgotten grandeur of life… “

Mistaking glamour for beauty

“It has become the habit of our times to mistake glamour for beauty. Beauty is not glamour, glamour, like the art world itself, is highly fickle and commercially driven enterprise that contributes to…the humdrum. It appears and one ever catches up to glamour “ -Robert C Morgan

Beauty is the Mystery of Life

Painter Agnes Martin writes

"When I think of art, I think of beauty. Beauty is the mystery of life. It is not in the eye, it is in the mind. In our minds there is awareness of perfection...."

Form is beauty

“Beauty is, in my view, a synonym for the coherence and structure underlying life. Beauty is the overriding demonstration of pattern that one observes. . Why is form beautiful? Because I think, it helps us meet our worst fear, the suspicion that life may be chaos and without meaning….” Robert Adams from Beauty in Photography

What are your thoughts on beauty?

Tags: aesthetics, beauty, TOK, arts, philosophy, value


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