Beauty and art go together

Home / Education / ARChives / Foundational Discussions

Beauty and art go together

From Bruce Attah

Published before 2005


James quoted me:
... "Art Perspectives" panel/talk at a convention this past weekend. Several different opinions were offered as to why beauty and art didn't go together,


and then James wrote:
Pls. share a couple of those opinions.
I've never actually heard anyone attempt to make that case.


A panel member on the "spirituality in art" panel had a master's degree in art symbolism (I didn't even know there was such a thing). He brought up the Romantics (Thanks, Kimbal, for the elucidation!), and tied that in with other forms of reaction occurring in the world about that time. I think you and Fred have both commented on this in recent months.

All of the comments concerning current reasons (why beauty and art don't "go together") seemed like the efforts of people trying to understand the doings of some odd, alien creature found washed ashore on the beaches of Madagascar, as though the creature must surely have meritorious qualities, if we can just put a finger on them. More than one idea started with "Perhaps. . ."

For instance, one woman stated that, "Beauty is a distraction. It clouds the issue and keeps true, important concepts from being seen clearly."

I couldn't accept that beauty was more of a long-term distraction than ugliness. My counter was based on my belief that a beautiful piece is easier to live with and more likely to be contemplated. I asserted that love often works this way, with beauty/attraction being the vehicle which draws people together and eventually helps them see much deeper, both to a loved one's better qualities and to "truth." I mentioned that even some of the "ugly" paintings which have stuck in my mind have had many beautiful qualities. For instance, growing up in the military, I saw any number of scenes depicting the horrors of war. I remember one painting, a bloody Pacific island scene (I was living on Guam at the time), which affected me. Looking back, I see not only the blood and body parts, but a carefully untidy yet directed composition, some great rendering of cloth and metal and ground and the tall field of grass, the exact quality of smoke residue and bubbled paint on the knocked-out tank, etc. There wasn't nearly as much "gore" as the impression made one think was present. I remember the pretty blue sky and bright, afternoon light, and how this, combined with the sense of waving grass, brought home the tragedy, and made me wonder whose son or fiancé would not be coming home, whether the objectives of this fire-fight were worth those men's lives, and how the underlying cause of the conflict could have been worth this, and a woman crying alone, at home. I was seven years old.

And so I pointed out that "pretty" is not the same as "beautiful," which brought some words from another woman, concerning how so many figurative pieces focus on pretty people, especially women.

I named several of my favorite paintings, which focus on men, as an aside, then dug out some prints. I showed them prints of paintings built around several women and a couple of men who were clearly not "classically beautiful," but instead were "interesting," a form of beauty I enjoy very much. I showed them a couple more prints, employing very ordinary models. These "worked" fine, though I have found that the more ordinary the model, the more the painting has to impress in other ways if it is to grab and hold attention. Quality of paint-work and handling of light can be beautiful, regardless of subject.

Discordant, "ugly" art can make its own point, I suppose, but it better be a relatively minor chord in the overall song of art, if it is not to overstay its welcome or stuff cotton in our ears.

Someone mentioned something like a saying my Mom said now and then: "He was so gorgeous, you just knew there couldn't be much room left for brains." This led to a brief flurry of blonde jokes and relative merit of same, along with my note that journalists rarely fail to mention when both beauty and brains are present.

I carried this to archetypes, and there was general agreement that this could well have been a factor in the development of the whole bizarre outlook on art.

Sounds more like a theme for a few pieces of art or a show, not for a century of artistic production.

I'm sure there were a couple more "arguments" offered, including, as I recall, one genuinely supported by the speaker, but I was working on two hours sleep and too much caffeine that day, and it hasn't gotten much better since. . .

Bill