LinkLuv: On beauty and art

I’m pretty caught up in the logistics of moving/selling the house and don’t have much time to be blogging right now, but a few things in an article titled Beauty and Desecration: We must rescue art from the modern intoxication with ugliness seemed to be worth excerpting.

    At any time between 1750 and 1930, if you had asked an educated person to describe the goal of poetry, art, or music, “beauty” would have been the answer. And if you had asked what the point of that was, you would have learned that beauty is a value, as important in its way as truth and goodness, and indeed hardly distinguishable from them. Philosophers of the Enlightenment saw beauty as a way in which lasting moral and spiritual values acquire sensuous form.

    At some time during the aftermath of modernism, beauty ceased to receive those tributes. Art increasingly aimed to disturb, subvert, or transgress moral certainties, and it was not beauty but originality—however achieved and at whatever moral cost—that won the prizes.

    In a seminal essay—“Avant-Garde and Kitsch,” published in Partisan Review in 1939—critic Clement Greenberg starkly contrasted the avant-garde of his day with the figurative painting that competed with it, dismissing the latter (not just Norman Rockwell, but greats like Edward Hopper) as derivative and without lasting significance. The avant-garde, for Greenberg, promoted the disturbing and the provocative over the soothing and the decorative, and that was why we should admire it.

This last quote is interesting to me mainly on account of many previous bloggy discussions with friend and artist Timothy Jones, who finds abstract (or, more specifically, non-objective or non-representational) art to be decorative. Read the article in it’s entirety via this link.

I haven’t finished the article, but printed it off in hopes of doing so later this week.


About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

4 Responses to LinkLuv: On beauty and art

  1. Mo-Coffee says:

    I just wrote a response to the same article. Check it out when you get a chance. I hope the packing/move is going well!

  2. pcNielsen says:

    And here’s more on the topic that I haven’t read and just found:

  3. Tim J. says:

    Terrific article. This is what happens when someone more intelligent and educated writes thoughtfully on the issues I have tinkered with on my blog (thanks for the link luv, BTW).

    It is a meaty article, but I’ll throw out two passages that stood out to me.

    “This process has been so normalized as to become a critical orthodoxy, prompting the philosopher Arthur Danto to argue recently that beauty is both deceptive as a goal and in some way antipathetic to the mission of modern art. Art has acquired another status and another social role.”

    The truth is that desecration, deconstructionism and sensationalism are the orthodoxy of the Academy, now, and are every bit as entrenched, exclusive and inbred as the conventions of the 19th century academy in Europe (which had its own issues). The student is encouraged – or prodded – by professors to attack the status quo, but it is a mythical status quo. The real status quo belongs now exclusively to the Modernist movement. If one has any *real* desire to rebel, he can do no better than to question the orthodoxy he is being fed in art school.

    But the whole idea of art as rebellion misses the point.”Rebellion” isn’t a value. Its value depends completely on what one is in rebellion against.

    Scruton also says of the experience of beauty;

    “The haste and disorder of modern life, the alienating forms of modern architecture, the noise and spoliation of modern industry—these things have made the pure encounter with beauty a rarer, more fragile, and more unpredictable thing for us.”

    This seems beyond doubt, to me. As I’ve said, we hold nature at arms length in the modern world, and this has brought us a number of benefits, but it has come at a high metaphysical price.

    There is no reason to just accept that it must be this way though. We need to pause and take stock of where the blind rush of industrialism has taken us, and then intentionally and systematically begin making our environment more harmonious and more seamlessly integrated with nature. It can be done, but over the last hundred years it has not been a priority. Good grief, we have the technology to accomplish it. What is wrong with us?

    One final thought: desecration is an entirely negative act. It has no power except the power that comes from the thing being desecrated. You can not desecrate a pile of dog poop. I suppose you could try, but the act would carry no weight, as it would be meaningless and could offend or upset no one (that I know of).

    You can, however, desecrate a cathedral, or the image of the human body, or the Cross, or the Statue of Liberty, because these things carry a great depth of meaning in themselves. It reminds me of what C.S. Lewis said about the banality of evil, that evil is by its nature only ever a parasite on the good, that it cannot even succeed in being evil in the same way that goodness succeeds in being good.

    “Goodness is, so to speak, itself: badness is only spoiled goodness”.

    The spoilers, the deconstructionists, the desecrators, have no power of their own, so they have to borrow it from somewhere else.

    Again, great article. Thanks for posting this.

    • pcNielsen says:

      Great observations. Thanks for reading the whole article; I still haven’t finished the first quarter of it! I did, however, read the interview with Wolfe I cited in the above comment. I’m working on a fairly in depth post that’s been waiting the wings for months now, since the IAM conference actually. Taking a lot of time, but worth it.

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