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i have stuff on my mind

Post #716 • January 25, 2006, 6:01 PM • 31 Comments

I wish I had met Balthus. People find his work repellent, and I understand the problem but I don't feel it. Often, when my head fills up with thinking, I look at his work in books. Some of the images say to me: beauty is permanent. Even when the last man has become grass, beauty will persist. I would like to know if he felt the same way despite having said this:

I'm for beauty at a time when beauty is unappreciated. Dostoyevsky said, "Beauty will save the world." For me, beauty and nature are linked. If God was content with the world he created, it was because it was beautiful. In my painting, I try to express divine beauty, which is very difficult today because people are only interested in ugliness. I think God has been forgotten. Tutto è brutto...

I find it unbearable to think that so many places that used to be so pleasant have become industrial sites or megalopolises with no architecture, full of noise and machines. The Paris I once know no longer exists. In some ways, my painting depicts a world that has disappeared. Nothing could be further from me than the taste for horror. This is what separates me from expressionism or gifted painters such as Francis Bacon. I liked him a lot as a friend, but never managed to understand why he was fascinated by ugliness.




January 25, 2006, 6:37 PM

Beauty is fine with me. Strident ugliness is usually just indulgent mannerism. Nasty things can be great art, obviously, but I feel that we have just about come to the end of that rope.Actually I think it reached its nadir in the 70s already, when there was a real vogue for blood and guts and excrement and self-mutilation. This has eased off, thank goodness, despite all the juvenile angst still afflicting us.



January 25, 2006, 7:51 PM


What is it you are asking?

If you are referring to "beauty will persist. I would like to know if he felt the same way despite having said this" I see no contradiction, only a nostalgia for an earlier time. The 'earlier time' slides, someone today may say the same thing but what does it really mean?

For example, as a boy, the foothills near where I lived were orange groves and unbroken fields of orange poppies in the springtime, now just houses and highways. It's lost for me but someone now will have a different pleasant memory that will also become lost in the future. Painting has the potential to fix the memory, not necessarily as the image but as the memory of a beauty once experienced in time.



January 25, 2006, 7:54 PM


What is it you are asking?

If you are referring to "beauty will persist. I would like to know if he felt the same way despite having said this" I see no contradiction, only a nostalgia for an earlier time. The 'earlier time' slides, someone today may say the same thing but what does it really mean?

For example, as a boy, the foothills near where I lived were orange groves and unbroken fields of orange poppies in the springtime, now just houses and highways. It's lost for me but someone now will have a different pleasant memory that will also become lost in the future. Painting has the potential to fix the memory, not necessarily as the image but as the memory of a beauty once experienced in time.


Marc Country

January 25, 2006, 10:33 PM

I think the Dostoyevsky quote is the key here... Balthus surely sees himself as doing his part to "save the world".

I think you're asking a pretty tough philosophical question, though... "Does beauty persist beyond the perceiver?" seems akin to asking if the falling tree makes a sound when it is not heard.

... and, if the 70's were the nadir, what was the zenith of the nasty as art? Bosch, Goya, Bacon...? Or does nastiness as art work better outside the visual, in, say, literature? I don't think I can imagine a succesful piece of music that is 'nasty' in this sense (unless we consider lyrics, of course).



January 25, 2006, 11:12 PM


Read (or re-read) On Photography by Susan Sontag. I'm in the midst of a re-read. The essays were written between 1973-77. This was before photography hit the mainstream.

But... read it as if she were speaking about painting instead of photography. I think you will find some interesting insights directly related to the essence of the question you posed. In particular, insights on beauty and out concept of it.



January 26, 2006, 12:12 AM

When I think of the descriptive, "beauty," Balthus is not the first artist that comes to mind, Unconsciously, I retained the conventional aspect of "beauty," applying words such as sweet, serene, romantic, etc., Thus, when you mentioned Balthus, I thought it rather odd at first. I would have said that his paintings are mysterious, curious, other-worldly, surreal, compelling, but not
"beautiful." And yet, his paintings do possess a strange beauty, unlike any I have ever seen before. Alas! His paintings are beautiful! (Do you think people are repelled by his unearthly use of
greens and golds? Think of "Miro and his daughter" and his other portraits?)

It would have been interesting to meet him. Both of his parents were painters, and he
grew up surrounded by painters and writers--Monet, Bonnard, Rilke, etc. What interests
me is that he was entirely self-taught, and despite all his immediate influences, his
genius was utterly unique.

Thanks for reminding me of the beautiful Balthus, Franklin. You've managed to
snip a few ugly neurons free. . .



January 26, 2006, 3:59 AM

John Berger writes of most paintings consisting of women, flowers, trees, the sky ,the moon, the ocean, birds... Perhapes some abstractionists wanted to extrapolate the essense of these universal beautiful things in order to make paintings that where an effigy of beauty - removing the soul of the thing abstracted. Perhapes Balthus resisted this deliberately, letting some of Bergers afformentioned beautiful content adorn his canvases.
Women are not as beautiful today, silk flowers fool the eye and nose, trees grow on fertilizer farms , the moon is concealed under a gauze of pop spirituallity, the sky and the ocean - forget about it.
Balthus depicted our current longings - something that made Rothko realize that he had failed.



January 26, 2006, 4:01 AM

-that he himself had failed.



January 26, 2006, 9:45 AM

ahh a delicate young girl, lovely as a flower, not yet a woman, the definition of beauty, so innocent and posed, to objectify her very being with my passionate gaze...i must paint her....over and fill myself with her unspeakable beauty.....i must convey it....this intimacy we share....

ok so i like some of his work, some of his writing, and am impressed about his history... and so cool his mom hung out with Rilke, etc. but c'mon BEAUTY? Lest we forget the whole -how do you define beauty?- debate. Depends on what your subject of beauty is and/or your defination. Of which, the objectification of young women on the onset of puberty is not a consideration.

george, i'm with you on sontag. i'll stick with her.



January 26, 2006, 10:55 AM

You don't define beauty, MEK, you recognize it.



January 26, 2006, 11:00 AM

well then, that makes it entirely subjective. obviously. then what is the use of the word Beauty itself, if defining it is not applicable? why would we have a name for it?



January 26, 2006, 11:41 AM

It has both subjective and objective components. Either way, it's still real.



January 26, 2006, 12:03 PM

It sounds as if you are saying that if we cannot define something it cannot exist, MEK. Think it over.

And think about the matter of "subjectivity" a little harder. You need to be clear and informed about these things it you are interested in art.



January 26, 2006, 12:04 PM

Tired of expectations that keep breaking down? Annoyed by associations that just won't come out? Want a convenient experience that really does work universally? Then do away with those unreliable and antiquated social conventions, and try new "Beauty-In-A-Book." You won't have to come to terms with it ever again.

mek, deconstructing "beauty" doesn't automatically de-objectify it. I have an 11 year old daughter, whom you might say is a "young wom[a]n on the onset of puberty." She is not safe from any unsavoury objectification just because we agree to no longer call her "beautiful."

The problem with the "ahh a delicate young flower" rant (#9) is that it only actually criticizes the use of and/or reliance on cliche expression. I agree that those phrases are inadequate descriptors for an experience of beauty; but even so, they do not eliminate the possibility for an actual apprehension of the same.



January 26, 2006, 12:15 PM


Some how I think you are musing over the notion of "... a time when beauty is unappreciated." I don't think the real question is "what is beauty?" we could go around in circles for hours on that, or dodge an answer altogether. Suffice to say 'beauty' can be both "subjective and objective" as you noted. The reason I mentioned Sontag's essays is because I believe that for the last 150 years painting has been grappling with issues raised by photography. Beauty and our relationship with it, is one of them.



January 26, 2006, 12:25 PM

Uh, last time i checked this was an open forum art blog, not a cigar parlor.

Frank: I agree.

Ahab: my intention is not to de-objectify beauty. good luck with your daughter. ps, a few sentences is not a rant.

Old pro, ever condascending as usual: ..."think about the matter of "subjectivity" a little harder. You need to be clear and informed about these things it you are interested in art".
If there's one thing you are oldie, it would be predictable.

enjoy the beautiful day, artbloggers. i have quite a few things left yet to accomplish today.



January 26, 2006, 12:47 PM

It [beauty] has both subjective and objective components.

Wow: a several-thousand-year-old philosophical debate dispelled with one casual flick of the keyboard. And before lunch!



January 26, 2006, 1:16 PM

I suppose I may be predictible, MEK, but "beauty is subjective" is about as predictable as it gets, and it dissolves pretty quickly under pressure. We have had some pretty good discussions here about it in the past. And calling me names only makes you look defensive.


Marc Country

January 26, 2006, 1:41 PM

This may seem a dumb question, but what the hell is a cigar parlour? (and what does one have to do, or not do, with an Artblog?)



January 26, 2006, 1:56 PM

And, who is Frank?



January 26, 2006, 4:15 PM

It [beauty] has both subjective and objective components.

1. What are the "components" of beauty?

2. How can beauty, if it exists on its own terms, be either subjective or objective?



January 26, 2006, 6:24 PM

Very good, Todd. Anyone care to reply? How about you MEK?



January 26, 2006, 8:02 PM

When beauty is subjective, it seems that it is a matter of one’s personal
taste. My poor mother, a painter-turned interior designer said:
“99% of the population has lousy taste.” (She hated decorating)
Later, she changed her mind: “99.9% of the population hasn’t a drop
of taste.”

Objectively, I think we inherently recognize beauty since it is a part of our nature—
look at the Golden Mean, Golden Proportion, Fibonacci’s series, etc.
These proportions are everywhere in nature—the sunflower, sea shell,
and infact, even our double helix dna follows the laws of divine

In a nutshell: You can have lousy taste and still recognize beauty; you
can have great taste and create ugly art; you can possess neither or both
and wind up in a cigar parlour.

or nut house.



January 26, 2006, 11:03 PM

I think Todd made the point that if beauty exists, then how can it be subjective. Is a rock subjective? If beauty is not subjective, then isn't it simply a matter of recognizing because we know what it is like, just as we know what a rock is like?

Or not?



January 26, 2006, 11:53 PM

The question might be a distinction between 'beauty' and what we call beauty. accepting 'beauty' in an absolute sense as oldpro implies verses a subjective opinion, calling something beautiful, which posesses the potential to be incorrect or not.

As I said earlier, I don't think that is the real issue. The greater question is the stance the culture might take towards 'beauty' at given points in time. If 'beautiful' is 'uncool', it doesn't negate beauty but deprecates it as a criteria when considering an artwork. I had the sense this was what Franklin was referring to not what beauty was.



January 27, 2006, 1:09 AM

I'm not up to an analytical, um, analysis of beauty. Obviously. And my philosophical rhetoric can be weak. The Sea of Beauty are treacherous waters, to be sure, even without todd's and oldpro's lures and snares.

But you know how a person can tell wood from veneer, even at a distance sometimes? Or how you can know from just a glance at the surface of a piece of metal whether it is thick or thin to a surprisingly high degree of accuracy? The eye by itself (as one of the five senses) is incredibly sophisticated, it can tell what kind of rock it is that sits there, what it might weigh, how far away it is, its approximate size, and more. Add to the eye the rest of the body's equipment and you've got a machine that hones in on it's subject with unbelievable sensitivity.

Beauty seems to be a peculiar configuration of an individual's whole-body information-reception. Any single instance of beauty-recognition is particular to each person; but still, surprisingly often, there is consensus between many. The problems with defining beauty lay with taking that general agreement for granted, then trying to formulate a rule based upon the accord. Beauty escapes unscathed while its characterization becomes the object of argument.

Although scienctific method can surely be used to map some of the physiological phenomena that occur when a human experiences something beautiful, and may even artificially reproduce sensations of beauty, the exception seems to be the only rule one can trust. I like Gigi's "inherent recognition of beauty" comment, but would not go so far as to ascribe a natural law that further explains the process. Any thesis would be arbitrary.

Rules are for governing things that require correction. I prefer to allow beauty to retain a certain inexplicity. Same goes for art, and quality. Same for God. That way I can still be pleasantly surprised once in a while.



January 27, 2006, 9:32 AM

The reason i suggested to MEK to think about the subject/objective dichotomy that rests so heavily on any discussion of beauty is that it appears to be a clear-cut matter when it is not.

All judgements of value revert to self-evidence, not "objectivity" per se. If you have a "good car" you may say it is good because it saves on gas. But then you ask, "what is so good about saving on gas" and so on, and before long you are in the region of pure self-evidence; not proof but positions which are basically unarguable except perhaps purely rhetorically.

If you accept the premise that saving on gas is a criteria for a good car, pure and simple, then you have a form of available proof. But that "proof", once again, if it needs to be proven in turn, reverts to matter of compelling assent because of increasing self-evidence or obviousness.

Thus all "objectivity" is, in the end, subjective. What we hold to be objective is, in the final analysis, merely accepted assumption. This does not keep us from using simple objectivity; we need to make judgements about what is good and right and we do it the best we can, all the time, every day. This is how we deal with the world and it works imperfectly but pretty well.

Within this system we have some things that allow clear criteria for judgement and some that do sort of and some that resist it altogether. Art is at the extreme of the resistence end of things, in the apparently contradictory position of being the one thing that depends utterly on value judgement but absolutely resists acceptable criteria for making those judgements.

Hence judging art is commonly held to be "subjective", "in the eye of the beholder" and the like and the beholder is compelled to estimate the art intuitively. Furthermore, the judgement one makes is held to be truly made only when something has come across through experience and intuitive judgement not merely because one is told that the art is good or because it fits over the couch.

But then we look out on the world and see that there has been a massive ongoing effort to determine what is "good" art, and that good art turns out to be not only a very tiny proportion of all art but seems to be pretty much accepted as "good", especially as it lasts through time and crosses cultural divisions. It is called the "consensus". Not only that but a great fuss is made about these otherwise useless objects and they sell for huge amounts of money. The mystery is compounded when we spend a lot of time with art and discover that, within fairly narrow limits, we pretty much agree with the consensus.

So, then, where are we with this notion of :subjective"? Art (or beauty or goodness or what have you) is the most "subjective" thing we have, but we continue to push it into a kind of universally accepted "objective" status. Whats going on here?



January 27, 2006, 9:53 AM

Yes oldpro, "beauty" is the most subjective thing we have. It is also the most real - so it is the most "objective" too. It is far more objective and real than, say, the square root of 2, a number that may not exist.



January 27, 2006, 10:14 AM

oldpro, I was hoping you'd get around to answering your own question. I can't answer "what's going on here."

By "the most real", catfish, do you mean that beauty is the most intense of experiences or the one that makes the deepest impression, like how the memory of any old rock is overwritten when I look at a geode?



January 27, 2006, 11:46 AM

All that each of us knows is derived exclusively from our individual experience. Beauty, like pain, is more "real" because it is utterly experiential. How can I say that the great Wall of China is "more real" than my Mozart jollies or my toothache?

In these days of string theory and other non-experiment based speculation it is not bizarre to propose that each of us is our own universe. This blog and all you bloggers are just part of my universe and exist only in my universe. This is counter-intuitive, for sure, but a lot of fun to think about, apart from the frightening intimations of utter loneliness, anyway.



January 27, 2006, 10:49 PM

Ahab: I'm never sure what I mean when I say "real", I just mean it. Your example of someone telling the difference between wood and veneer was "real".



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