Beauty, Truth, and a New Year

Since the time of the Greek philosopher Plotinus, Beauty has been regarded as inextricably linked to Truth.  Modern writers John Ruskin, Walter Pater, and Oscar Wilde shared this conviction.

In appraising Beauty, we sense something greater than the sum of the form’s parts.  No single attribute defines the object, it is a cumulative effect.

During Modernism’s rise to prominence, it became wary of beauty’s value to engage critically with the discourse of the times. Beauty had been coopted by others.  Modernists instead turned to “truth to materials” and an autonomy of the object.  Beauty was sidelined as a critical mode to think with.

Beauty here is twin-fold in both the human body and the outstanding excellence of marble sculpting craftsmanship.  Giovanni Benzoni, Veiled Rebecca, 1872, collection of Cedahurst

Although it is natural for artists to recognize and represent the social and cultural world, it is perhaps even more aspirational to bring something hopeful to it.

There are many avenues to represent beauty.  Artists create works that attempt to speak directly with the viewer, engaging them in a dialogue of what is mutually relevant, intellectually stimulating, and validating.

Some images only flicker with truth and not for long; others can be returned to again and again for the satisfaction and pleasure they give.  Beauty in Art rekindles hope made manifest.

Simplicity and elegance in the timeless design of the vessel.  Craig Rhodes, Cool, 2012, stoneware urn, collection of Cedarhurst 

Philosophers have noted, beauty is not found in appearance alone; it is a confluence of factors that are spatial, temporal, and ephemeral.  Plato and Schopenhauer declared that beauty does not stop with the object.  Contemplation of beauty may lead to further insights and greater depths of virtue.

The well known arts writer, Suzi Gablik championed artists who embrace the world with art-making that is engaged, participatory, and socially relevant.  Gablik has written that beauty “is an activity rather than an entity, a consciousness of, and reverence for, the beauty of the world.”

The Windsor chair design is over 320 years old.  A form of beauty that has stood the test of time.  John Quick, Sack-Back Windsor, 2004, maple, poplar, oak, collection of Cedarhurst

Alexander Nehamas in “The Return of the Beautiful: Morality, Pleasure, and the Value of Uncertainty” suggested how the study of beauty may open doors.

“The contract of beauty unites spectator and image in mutual trust.  A beautiful thing invites us further into itself.  And the further we go into it, the further we need to go into everything else.  Beauty is a call to adventure.”

In our contemporary world, some artists swim against the flow.  Following their own vision.  When we study developed and thoughtful art, we are looking at a way of life, a way of living, a philosophy.  The reading process is most vital when a vision may go against our own, that we should pause, and give that vision consideration.  It is at that moment that our own world opens onto more.