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What is Beauty? PDF Print E-mail

given by Cara Ghassemian

What is beauty?

This short talk will touch upon

· the meaning of beauty particularly according to the German aesthetic tradition,

· the connection of beauty with the sublime and its place in Art; within that tradition.

· I will suggest some brief theories as to what it is about the features of particular objets d'art that attract the label "beautiful" and

· I will consider the "anti-beauty" movement, albeit very briefly.

· I will finish by sharing with the attendees 3 examples of what I consider beautiful including a work of art that I also consider to be sublime.

Baumgarten said that perfection of sensual cognition is defined as beauty. Art as the manifestation of the beautiful therefore aims to represent the purposeful unity and harmony of the world; the perfect (the Absolute) perceived by the senses. [ISLAMIC MOSAICS OF SOUTHERN SPAIN-WITH THEIR GEOMETRIC PATTERNING OF MOTIFS, SUGGEST UNITY AND HARMONY THROUGH MULTIPLICITY] B said that we perceive the highest manifestation of beauty in nature, and therefore the imitation of nature, is, according to B, the highest task of art. Others, such as Tolstoy say that the aim of art should be the good, not the beautiful. More of Tolstoy later.

Mendelssohn defined the sublime as the sensual expression of an extraordinary perfection, as well as beauty of such enormous dimensions that it cannot be sensually comprehended all at once. Sublimity produces a divergent matrix of emotions in us due to the pleasure that results from its beautiful aspect and the frustration caused by our failure to grasp it in its entirety.

Kant divided beauty into two: free beauty and adherent beauty. Free beauty might be flowers, vine patterns as framework or on wallpaper; all music without text.

Adherent beauty is purposive: a horse, a building and the human figure and the judgment of them depends as much on a sense of purpose as on a concept of perfection.

For Kant not all that is beautiful has to be art but all that is art has to be beautiful. Although he does concede, like Aristotle that art can portray ugly subjects in a beautiful manner eg the Furies, the devastation of war. I don't know if any of you have seen Van Gogh's "The Potato Farmer" at the Art Gallery of NSW? [ROSALIE GASCOIGNE'S ART, USING REFUSE FROM GARBAGE DUMPS]

Kant declared beauty not to be a quality of the object, but a response of the beholder-nevertheless he does attempt to define the beautiful features of the arts. He prefers line to colour. However for Kant the beauty of nature always surpasses that of art because it lays claim to immediate interest whereas artistic products always mediate between their subject matter and the recipient. [PHOTO OF CACTUS WITH FLOWERS]

Schelling said that beauty is not an achievement of the artist-it is due to its reflecting quality of the infinite that is characterised by truth and beauty.

Hegel defines beauty as the sensual appearance of the Idea, that is, as the unification of a sensual object with its concept. Therefore the work of art not only pleases our senses but also satisfies our longing for truth as it allows us to comprehend the concept as realised in a material object.

For Nietzsche any object that increases our sense of power or pleases any of our interests is beautiful. For Nietzche ultimately we only perceive as beautiful what corresponds to an ideal of our own drives for example wealth, splendour, piety, outflow of power. The development of this notion, must be seen in the context of the industrial revolution and the heralding of the era of science. [POYNTER'S PAINTING "THE VISIT OF THE QUEEN OF SHEBA TO KING SOLOMON"]

What makes something beautiful?

Hogarth- was in favour of curves and serpentine lines as imparting beauty in a physical sense - because it is the most perfect combination of simplicity and intricacy unity and variety.

Later Garrick said beauty was associated with the synergy between form and function of an object. Is a well designed piece of furniture beautiful? Are Alessi products beautiful?

Is it simply a matter of proportions? Ie are some well proportioned buildings beautiful?

Is it something to do with the way the different elements in an object go together, or the relationship between its different parts? Our longing for the perfect union can find a home in a beautiful object-something we cannot lastingly achieve with another person.

Is it associated with the response of the beholder as Kant suggests? [MY INTERACTION WITH MY 4 MONTH OLD NEPHEW OLIVER] Is it more associated with pleasure?

Not everyone is pro-beauty

There is after all the strong Platonic tradition of the devaluation of the objects of the senses in favour of a rationality cleansed of sensibility; reinforced by philosophers such as Descartes who rejected aesthetic cognition by claiming that it consisted of value judgements that are not methodical but subjective.

Tolstoy said that the theory of art based on beauty, is nothing other than the recognition as good of what has been and is found pleasing by "us"; that is, by a certain circle of people. The concept of beauty not only does not coincide with the good, but is rather the opposite of it, because the good for the most part, coincides with a triumph over our predilections, while beauty is the basis of all our predilections.





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