on beauty

A main theme for my non-fictional writing this year will be art and beauty, or beauty in art. It might sound like an obvious choice for an art critic, but the thing is:

It is not!

It is almost as if the concept beauty has become a taboo. Or as Marilynne Robinson says in the opening of her excellent essay ON BEAUTY (Tin House):

It has seemed to me for some time that beauty, as a conscious element of experience, has gone into abeyance among us.

Robinson carries on to say that the problem is not shortage of beauty, but rather it has to do with finding an appropriate way to talk about it.

For me, this is a core definition of beauty: that it is both rigorous and dynamic and that it somehow bears a deep relationship to truth.

– Marilynne Robinson

Marilynne Robinson

So; how can we think and write about beauty without sounding naïve and simple-minded (as if we are forgetting all the troubles of the world, forgetting that we live in a racist, violent and discriminating society which seems to try to extinct itself through pollution and exploitation)?

Maybe we could turn things around, and say that focusing on beauty is not an act of repression, but rather a necessary thought provoking and critical position which makes us aware of what is worth fighting for?

We are here to bring to consciousness the beauty and power that are around us and to praise the people who are here with us. We witness our generation and our times. We watch the weather. Otherwise, creation would be playing to an empty house.

– Annie Dillard

16 comments on “on beauty

  1. Roger Scruton has much to say about the idea that the concept has become taboo.
    And the subject goes back to at least Plato (a Greek word that is interchangeably understood as beauty and the good, if I recall). I suppose this would be relevant to recognising what is worth fighting for. Perhaps a warped sense of beauty relates to a warped sense of the good, and I guess that what is seen as repressive today was once seen as good, and was part of the aestehtic sensibilities of the time?

  2. Sigrun, I believe beauty is/will be one of the saving graces for humanity – along with other graces such as empathy, love, truth…
    I look forward to following your reflections on the subject throughout the coming year.

  3. Art is the Tree Of Life (my artist brother just made me a print which says so, in German, and which I will post on my blog soon) . I so believe this (( oh, by the way, that is just one half , or part of the whole saying, ((taken from some Pennsylvania Deustch)) ” Art is the tree of life. Science is the tree of death” or so my brother told me, as he laughed it off. I laughed too, wondering about that (its no coincidence that my brother is both an art teacher AND a science teacher) . But what I’m trying to say, how necessary art is. Now about beauty. I like art which is expression of beauty over art that is ‘for the sake of art’ which captures disturbing & difficult emotions (about the things you posted). In my youth, a lifetime ago it seems, I did art about both. I only like my art about ‘beauty’ now. Thanks for this little window through which I could share a few words on the subject of the day . 🙂

      • Yes definitely ! When I was a youth, I loved to push comfort zones… focus on tragedy….and had little patience with ‘sentimental art’ … blah blah blah. Now I just want to be comforted by it. (as my brother’s excellent wood-cut does for me ! lol)

      • I think when I was a youth (an artist) I used art to express my volatile and ‘eruptive’ nature. Now I just like to knit , design knitwear, and subdue my eruptive nature… lol !

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