Thursday, October 20, 2011


The sweetest gift, the only gift, we can give our selves, our community, the earth is our fullest, truest presence. Simply put, our presence is who we are or would be, if we weren't always trying to be someone else " (Roth, Genean (1996) Appetites. New York, USA. Dutton.)

My blog friend Joyce at Peaceful Legacies posted an essay today (What is Beauty?) and a link to a video about Beauty. In the video, The Philosophy of Beauty (Part 1), host and creator, Roger Scruton talks about the importance of art and artists in celebrating beauty and speaks of his fear that in our current state of 'anything goes for art', we are at risk of losing beauty -- and that would not be good for the world. Scruton says, "I think we are losing beauty. And there is a danger that with it we will lose the meaning of life."

Centuries ago, espouses Scruton, artists believed portraying beauty through art to be a sacred trust. The intent was not to shock, but rather, to celebrate the world around us, a world that was chaotic yet filled with beauty that artists shared as a consolation for the chaos.

I like Joyce's question. What is Beauty? It intrigues me.

Many would say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But when 'art' masquerades as beauty in the form of say, a Meat Dress, or a urinal hung in an exhibit as art, then the relevance of beauty is lost in the artist's desire to use art as a medium to make a political or satirical statement.

Years ago I read a study that surveyed different cultures around the world to determine what values we held in common. Beauty was one of the values surveyed but it was not one of the common values held amongst cultures worldwide. Youth was. Good health was. But beauty did not make the list.

Beauty is too subjective, I remember reading in the study. What is beautiful to a tribesman crossing the Serengeti can be profoundly different than what resonates with a taxi-cab driver crossing the Brooklyn Bridge. To the tribesman, traffic congestion could be a beautiful sight if never seen before. To the taxicab driver, a clear road could be the most beautiful thing in the world for him to see.

When I lived in Vancouver, most evenings would find Ellie (the wonder pooch) and me down at the West Van Sea Wall. I would throw a stick into the water and Ellie would joyfully race after it. It was a beautiful sight to see. Her golden coat shining in the evening sun. The water sparkling. The waves rolling in. The sounds. The smells. The texture of the air.


Yet, some evenings a fog would enshroud the world. The beach would disappear from view. Where once the Lions Gate Bridge spanned the strait, only white mist could be seen. Only the sound of traffic on the bridge could be heard.

What was beautiful was invisible. And yet, beauty still existed. Still shone through the fog.

Meat dresses. Urinals posing as art. These are not things of beauty. They are statements.

Sure, it is easy to say the fact man created it gives any object an inherent beauty but beauty is deeper than just our ability to make it. Beauty is the essence. The soul. The depth of our world. Art is a reflection of our world and when we let art reflect that which is ugly and sinecure and devaluing of the beauty of our humanity, we create a world of ugly.

We lessen ourselves and the world in which we live.

I don't have an answer to Joyce's question. But I sure am glad she asked it. Because in her asking, I am inspired to give thought to the meaning and the context of What is Beauty?

It is a conversation worth engaging in, just as Roger Scruton's series, The Philosophy of Beauty is well worth watching.



Maureen said...

The subject is a fascinating one!

I don't happen to believe that we're at risk of losing whatever we define as being beauty; nor do I think it's fundamentally the artist's job to celebrate beauty. Some of the most beautiful artworks I've seen concern themselves with dark and ugly things. There is room in the world for whatever we might disagree with, including definitions of beauty, and the art world in particular is one that accommodates both what we put forth as examples to support those definitions and what appears to be outside them. I'm not drawn to a meat dress or the urinal as an example of "art" but I also don't think either was ever put forth as something beauty (of course, we might find ourselves exclaiming, as some have recently, that a $6k toilet by Toto is a beautiful design).

A converation worth having? Absolutely!

Ruth said...

I agree it is fascinating. I'm reading Scruton's book, well the definition of "reading" is loose, as I have about a dozen books I'm "reading."

I tend to agree with Maureen that art need not celebrate beauty. I myself am drawn to beautiful art, as defined by me. But I am also drawn to beautiful photographs of decrepit urban scenes (like Detroit). I feel that art must reflect what is true and real, not only what is a standard of beauty, according to someone.

I would love to sit and discuss in a room together! No doubt we would agree on many things, and perhaps disagree on some, and that, too, would be beautiful!

Anonymous said...

meat dresses?

of course ... served with rye bread, a touch of mayo, some grainy dijon mustard


food imitating art

art imitating food

life .. imitating nothing

lets all celebrate are and have a meaty lunch ...


Anonymous said...

I just read your entry for Wednesday October 28,2009. I am amazed how your words speak to me. You seem to know exactly what I am feeling and going through. I so desperately want someone to come and make my life better for me, to change it. To clean up my mistakes and make my dreams come true. I know you are right when you say it is up to me, but that is my biggest fear, I can't count on me I have failed in so many ways.

Louise Gallagher said...

Dearest Anonymous, I am sorry for your pain, for your self-doubt, your fear.

I too have felt those things and all I could do was to speak of them, to acknowledge them, to see them and know -- I am enough.

Please know -- you are enough, just the way you are. Your best is the best you can do and it is good enough.

Please know -- you are not alone.

Thank you for dropping in and speaking up. Thank you for acknowledging your fear. That is a powerful step you have taken. And sometimes, all we can follow those giant leaps with are baby steps as we learn, we are okay, just the way we are.