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.