Post #1204 • July 7, 2008, 10:21 AM • 244 Comments
Pulled from the thread at Ed's, with some material included that I had removed for the sake of brevity at his site. James Kalm has just noted, "I appreciate people trying to do things they aren't especially proficient at (just as long as it's not my brain surgeon).
Or your dentist. Or the contractor installing your kitchen cabinets. Or your accountant. Or really anyone doing work of significant and lasting consequence.
Beauty has a universal basis that comes out of our biological functioning, in which I include our mental functioning. From that universal basis, individual acts of appreciating and manufacturing beauty come forth. These individual acts vary but do not vary infinitely. Any statement about beauty that contradicts its biological basis or its individuality of expression is likely to be flat-out wrong.
Everyone has a certain amount of ability to detect beauty. Only an insensate buffoon would find the sunset repulsive, or no woman beautiful, or the oceans lacking in wonder. Like most human activities of any richness, we have developed fields that concentrate the appreciation and making of beauty, and we involve ourselves with these pursuits in a spirit of ever-increasing refinement. People with a lot of innate inclination who put the time into these pursuits reach levels of appreciation that not everyone can or will attain. A subset of them become artists. A subset of the artists become good artists.
Unfortunately, people have come to take art too seriously in ways it doesn't justify and not seriously enough in ways that it does. There are Americans, for instance, who think of art as a universal good and therefore want the government to pay for contemporary musuems. To me, this sounds like saying that sex is a universal good and the government should pay for prostitutes. Really good prostitutes. They'd be required to obtain PhD's in prostitution. I think that's at least as arguable.
The market will supply your needs according to their sophistication and type. If you have the requisite appreciation for beauty that comes with a pulse and one or two working eyes, and you get excited about the Christian message, you can obtain a work by Kinkade or a fair facsimile thereof according to your budget. But those people probably are not reading this blog.
If you have more ability to detect beauty than that, but not enough to recognize that Kinkade doesn't exemplify it, or beauty doesn't hit you hard enough to distinguish its perception f rom thinking, or you've taken cues from what constitutes important literature, important philosophical works, or important historical events and can't work beauty into a similar assessment of art, then a bewildering array of conceptually-leaning works of art are available at a variety of price points and degrees of intellectual depth.
And then you have people for whom beauty is a dominating feature of consciousness. These people use language in a way that indicates that their visual responses and kinesthetic responses operate together, intensely. I once went into a friend's studio, and the second thing he said to me was, "Dude, you have to fucking see this fucking Sickert," as he thumbed through his new monograph. And I thought, yeah, Sickert will do that to you. Not a lot of people are like this - aesthetes in the positive sense.
People don't fear beauty, but they fear aesthetes, because people worry about being left out. This works both ways. You have people who don't detect beauty to the utmost degree making statements about the relative unimportance, changing standards, or basal subjectivity of beauty. You also have artists who would become aesthetes in the best sense if left to their own devices, but face abuse and neglect if they go through school that way or try to garner serious critical consideration in the larger art world. You also have the artists who just can't help their aestheticism. They generally fear nothing except pain and death, but a lot of the art world pisses them off.