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Should the Concept of Beauty be Resurrected in the Twenty-first Century? Should the Concept of Beauty be Resurrected in the Twenty-first Century?
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2010-11-15 09:44:30
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A few days ago we were treated to an article titled Gangbang Parties and Domina Rooms by Lilika Ruby which ends this way: “…there is still virulent disagreement about what is obscene and what is decent. About what is culture and what is simply crass. I mean, there’s Piss Christ and Poop Mary and Bobby Bullwhip – and that’s just up into the nineties.  …Shit, I guess I’m just going to have to keep looking…”

As Ms. Ruby keeps on looking and rummaging in what is by now the familiar combination of perfume and garbage, it will perhaps not come as a great surprise to her and others that the above mentioned issue is far from settled. Moreover,  the bizarre marriage of marvels and horrors that began in the 20th century and continues in the 21st , coupled with the fast development of science and art has had as its most apparent result the deemphasizing, if not exactly the obliteration, of the concept of Beauty.

And the more one looks and rummages through modern art the more the horrors multiply and the more the concept of Beauty seems to fade. As shocking as this may sound, the final jury is still out on modern art, despite some of its widely acknowledged merits. A possible solution to the conundrum posed at the end of Ms. Ruby’s article may be to consult the philosophers beginning with Plato, who introduces the concept of Beauty and attempts to define art, all the way to Kant who coins the word “aesthetics.” One such text, to be recommended to all students of art and aesthetics is David Ross’s Art and its Significance.

What I am suggesting is simply this: if we wish to at least clarify the issue, if not resolve it once and for all, we need to look back to the future. Looking forward, I am afraid, will only lead to more chambers of horrors and the attendant smell of perfumed garbage. Undoubtedly the 20th century has given us a cascade of innovations and technological gadgets in science and sociology, medicine and politics. We have gone from the horse drawn carriage to space travel and nuclear fusion in barely sixty years. The arts have kept pace, going from realism to impressionism, to dada and minimalism to post-modernism, just to mention a few trends. But that be called genuine progress?

What all these trends seem to have in common as an assumed philosophical infrastructure of sort, a cynical relativism which has its origins in nihilism. In science we have physicists who believe that progress is inevitable, therefore we ought to try everything that we are able to do and do so indiscriminately: if we can create atomic bombs that kill millions of civilians in a few seconds, we should go ahead and create them and then perhaps rationalize the enterprise as needed for the deterrence of enemies.  In art, we have artists, so called, who think that just because they can, they should display a urinal in a gallery and call it art.

Indeed, our culture invariably reflects our values. Action defines history and history determines the present. Man is his own history, whether he realizes it or not. Those values born in the 20th century follow us now in the 21st century and we find ourselves deprived of the very concept of Beauty, a concepts about which philosophers of all persuasions and schools have argued and debated for some two thousand plus years. Not only has nihilism been embraced in philosophy but the sardonic relativism of the dada school has by now been fully embraced by collectors, museums, publications on art. The impact of nihilism and dada on Western civilization is undoubtedly pervasive, albeit corrosive.

Another common feature of all those trends is that Beauty has no place in art, that art has no use and purpose. Indeed the very word “art” has been rendered meaningless; anything and any action and event can be branded and sold as art. I can jump in the fountain of Trevi, or place myself naked on one of the tombs in the Roman Pantheon (as was indeed done this past summer) and declare those actions artistic events, and declare so not only the actions and events but one’s own very self: I do what my instincts urge me to do and then declare those actions art, free from any punishment and reprisal; in fact, I declare those actions part of my identity: I am art therefore I am, to paraphrase Descartes famous statement on thinking. As mentioned, the source of this cynical trend is nihilism. That’s where we find ourselves at the beginning of the 21st century. We continue with the empty intellectualism of the 20th century and its desperate need to shock. But once the shocking becomes normal one needs a higher dose of it. It is a vicious circle, somewhat like drug addiction. One needs higher and higher doses to get the same diminishing results. The consequences may vary, but the atmosphere around any addiction, however, remains one of decay and sadness devoid of freedom, quite normal within nihilism.

Paradoxically, the customary defense for this travesty of art is that art is free, that it frees us from the constraints and hypocrisies of our societies, and yet I for one would submit that the values we derive from a pernicious anti-art nihilistic ontology do not ultimately free us; on the contrary, they enslave and doom us. After Nietzsche’s madman has shouted “God is dead” the search for meaning goes on more desperately than ever. Similarly, after dada raped art the search for Beauty goes on desperately simply because ugliness remains unacceptable and unappealing. That search, as Tolstoy intimated, is integral part of human nature and remains a last ray of hope for mankind, especially in a dark despairing period of human history which has produced two world wars, the Holocaust and the Gulags.

As one surveys Ross’s book on the significance of Art, one invariably comes to the conclusion that indeed it is easier to desecrate something of Beauty than to create something of Beauty. Michelangelo creating the Pietà and the David is the path of art. The deranged man breaking them up with a hammer as a sign of anti-art is at best a sort of lazy intellectualism signifying little, if anything; a mere ignoble devaluation of Beauty. The question arises: are those “artists” who display urinals and feces on canvas and desecrate sacred symbols simply to shock people who compensate for their temporary or permanent inability to create Beauty? They say they are free, but are they aware that in as much as they have made their nihilistic trends an ideology and fetish of sort, they are slaves to such an ideology? Are they aware that such a trend may be the politically correct position now, but it is also the status quo?

I can wager that the above ruminations and reflections on the meaning of art suggesting that before we throw the baby out with the dirty bath water we ought to know what the philosophers have speculated on the concept of Beauty, will be promptly attacked by various brands of nihilists as superficial, simplistic, politically incorrect, naïve, romantic, idealistic, neo-classicist, conservative, medieval, etc. etc. After all, the critics will boldly exclaim, we live in cynical realistic Machiavellian post-modern times and one has to get with it or be left behind by history.

As a response, without getting into the thorny issue of the value of modern art which would take us too far afield, I have a modest suggestion and it is this: for those who are truly seeking Beauty, classifications such as the above are meaningless. Those who have looked back to the future and have acquainted themselves with the history of art know that as there were works lacking Beauty before dada, there have been works of Beauty despite dada. They know with Kant (See his Critique of Judgment) and Raphael and Michelangelo that the criteria for judging art are universal, not relativistic, that Beauty is the purpose of art, just as a building is the purpose of architecture; that Beauty can bridge the frightening cultural chasms of modern societies and ought in fact be a goal of every culture; that just as philosophy and science are useful to inform us about Truth, art is useful to inform about Beauty.

They also know with Plato and Aristotle that Beauty, Truth and Goodness are fundamental needs of the healthy human condition; it is its very oxygen and that Beauty and ugliness may be complementary to each other but they never were and never will be the same thing.  They know that an empty relativism declaring that “it is all in the eyes of the beholder” will not lead to anything  truly new and meaningful.  The Greeks were fully aware that  Good, Beauty, Truth, were concepts related to each other and transcendent of particular societies; they remain the sine qua non of any genuine civilization.  Is it not high time to resurrect the concept of Beauty and go back to the future?


    
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L Hagen Barry Student2010-11-17 06:32:37
Definitions of the world are universal, timeless, and absolute. all are framed within larger systems of knowledge. the systems shift and evolve. Of course music, dance and literature do similar things as well as other fields of human nature.Art, like you stated, is meaningless. How do we measure a work of art as good? How do we measure beauty? yes, the cliche of " beauty is in the eye of the beholder" is ones thought and idea, who is to say that the 21st century art has not been resurrected? art is an expression of ones idea and thoughts. thou we can look back and see specific cultures.so called artist will place paint on the floor and canvas on the wall and allow their animals to walk in the paint and climb on the canvas. They hang it in a gallery and call it art. I'm not one to say thats not art. Like you said a person can place a urinal on the wall and call it art. When is someone going to draw a line on what is art and what isn't? That can't be done. Art is whatever people say or feel is art. Beauty and ugliness will never be in the same category. It is all in the mind of the person. Good, beauty, and truth were related to each other. Looking at the words who can define them? Like you had lectured, we know right from wrong, good from bad due to how we were raised and what we learned. My question is, do we really know right from wrong, good from bad? I do agree with "there were works lacking Beauty before dada" many of pieces leave you wondering what was the person thinking. I do believe it is time for art to come to the next level. From dada to now art has taken many different forms but became off the previous time period. I guess we do need to keep digging and move back to the future.


Natalie Haaf mondaynight2010-11-17 23:32:06
I agree that Gangbang Parties and Domina Rooms have nothing to do with art or culture. I think modern art is so different in so many ways and who are we to say what is beautiful or what art is. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.


Diana Diaz PHI-320 Monday2010-11-18 04:50:22
Through t history artist have been known to be controversial, provocative and edgy. Some artist have been questioned and censured in their work. Even Michelangelo, one of the greatest artists of time, was criticized for some of his work such as the Last Judgment where the naked figures where unsuitable and offensive for its time and location. However, today many more perceive the painting as beautiful art where previous generations viewed it as ostentatious. I personally do not view the Gangbang Parties and Domina Rooms as art and/or culture, however, “it is all in the eyes of the beholder”-and, only the beholder.
-Diana Diaz


NINA C.-PHI 320- DR. PAPA2010-11-20 18:38:53
NO, BECAUSE WHY SHOULD WE AS HUMAN BEINGS CONTINUE TO LIVE OUR LIVES BASED ON THE PASS AND NOT THE FUTURE. WE ALREADY KNOW WHAT MEANING BEAUTY IMPLIED IN THE 20TH CENTURY, WHICH IS NAKED STATUES PERHAPS OF ANCIENT OR MODERN FIGURES THAT WAS CALLED ART. HOWEVER, ART CAN COME IN MANY, MANY FORMS. IT CAN BE BASED ON THE WAY ONE LOOKS AT ART. A URINAL IN AN ART GALLERY COULD BE CONSIDERED ART JUST LIKE AN X-RAY MACHINE SITTING IN THE KITCHEN. IT'S ALL HOW YOU LOOK AT ART. WHEREAS TO ART IN THE FUTURE, COULD BE INTERESTING BECAUSE IT COULD BE DIFFERENT FROM THE PASS AND A FORM THAT THE HUMAN BEING HAS NEVER SEEN. IT COULD BE A CURIOUS ART. IN ADDITION, ONE SHOULD FOCUS ON "NICE" ART AND NOT "NASTY" ART. NOT ONE THAT COULD LEAD ONE TO TROUBLE. PLATO AND KANT HAD A REAL BELIEF IN AESTHETICS WHICH IS BASED ON HOW THEY SAW BEAUTY IN THEIR OWN EYES. ART IS A TREND THAT CONTINUES THROUGHOUT LIFE JUST LIKE WEARING CLOTHES IS A TREND THAT CHANGES WITH TIME. PLATO AND ARISTOTLE SET GOOD EXAMPLE ON THE GOOD, THE BEAUTY, AND THE TRUTH. IF WHAT YOU BELIEVE IS ART, THEN IT'S TRUE WHETHER THE ART IS GOOD OR BEAUTIFUL. SO MY OPINION ON THIS ARTICLE WOULD BE NO.


NINA C.-PHI 320- DR. PAPA2010-11-20 18:43:36
NO, BECAUSE WHY SHOULD WE AS HUMAN BEINGS CONTINUE TO LIVE OUR LIVES BASED ON THE PASS AND NOT THE FUTURE. WE ALREADY KNOW WHAT MEANING BEAUTY IMPLIED IN THE 20TH CENTURY, WHICH IS NAKED STATUES PERHAPS OF ANCIENT OR MODERN FIGURES THAT WAS CALLED ART. HOWEVER, ART CAN COME IN MANY, MANY FORMS. IT CAN BE BASED ON THE WAY ONE LOOKS AT ART. A URINAL IN AN ART GALLERY COULD BE CONSIDERED ART JUST LIKE AN X-RAY MACHINE SITTING IN THE KITCHEN. IT'S ALL HOW YOU LOOK AT ART. WHEREAS TO ART IN THE FUTURE, COULD BE INTERESTING BECAUSE IT COULD BE DIFFERENT FROM THE PASS AND A FORM THAT THE HUMAN BEING HAS NEVER SEEN. IT COULD BE A CURIOUS ART. IN ADDITION, ONE SHOULD FOCUS ON "NICE" ART AND NOT "NASTY" ART. NOT ONE THAT COULD LEAD ONE TO TROUBLE. PLATO AND KANT HAD A REAL BELIEF IN AESTHETICS WHICH IS BASED ON HOW THEY SAW BEAUTY IN THEIR OWN EYES. ART IS A TREND THAT CONTINUES THROUGHOUT LIFE JUST LIKE WEARING CLOTHES IS A TREND THAT CHANGES WITH TIME. PLATO AND ARISTOTLE SET GOOD EXAMPLE ON THE GOOD, THE BEAUTY, AND THE TRUTH. IF WHAT YOU BELIEVE IS ART, THEN IT'S TRUE WHETHER THE ART IS GOOD OR BEAUTIFUL. SO MY OPINION ON THIS ARTICLE WOULD BE NO.


Devereaux, student2010-11-22 17:16:02
Dr. Paparella's article is attempting to express that just as there are legal limits in society such as public nudity, there should also be limits to public expressions of offensive art that evolves through relativistic intensions such as Nihilism and Dada. That the purpose of Art since its conception had been to express, with integrity, the beauty of art, to shine light into the dark corners of the changing societies. This darkness of society needs to be suppressed if we are ever to consider humanity to be civilized, which should always be our goal. If we continue to allow art that desecrates sacred beliefs, offending society, and portraying wanton violence, where does it end, when will we say enough is enough? Will we wait until there is another Columbine attributed to relativistic ideologies in art that supports such barbaric tendencies? Just as hateful and bad ideologies inspired nihilism and dada, what will be next and how will it affect society if limits are not universally accepted? Art should be appreciated and celebrated, not used as a weapon! Art should always remain something that inspires humanity through its BEAUTY!


C.Grant, PHI-320, Monday2010-11-25 04:50:16
Yes,I think it should be resurrected, genuine art can withstand the test of time and often they are imitated, but never duplicated. I agree that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but! junk is for the garbage.


Damaris Gonzalez2010-11-29 06:18:45
I believe that there is beauty/art in evrything around us. Art is expressed in many forms and viewed differently by all. I do agree that some modern art is pretty ridiculous and in no way compares to the amazing works of art of the past. Why are we so impressed by a man who swallows different colors and vomits on canvas? Can you imagine hanging someone's coloful vomit over your dinning room table- Gross!!! If it's crap, lets call it "crap". I know we know an expression of art when we see one, I don't believe that we have lost all our senses. Throughout history there have always been extreme personalities as there are now in search of attention, wanting to shock the regular folks-but that is all it is and if we would be grossed out instead of shocked by this junk, this garbage would be short lived. (Barry Student)




Sardinas D Barry Student2010-12-02 17:29:07
Gangbang parties and Domina rooms should not be viewed as art or a part of our culture. A half nude woman hanging from the ceiling with ropes and straps should not be considered art or part of our culture. Will it ever be possible to measure or judge what is art or what isn't? The ability to measure art will never occur this would be like having the ability to measure beauty. Modern art comes is many different forms who are we to judge and say what is beauty or what is not. Beauty is unique to every individual in that it’s a combination of past experiences, culture and social interactions that influence ones ideas of beauty. Art is whatever people say or believe art is, it comes in many forms. Although for some, art is the creation or process of deliberately arranging symbolic elements in a way that they sway and affect one or more senses, emotions and intellect.
Art in the future could be interesting since it may be unusual from what we have been accustomed to in our past and new visualizations that are new to us. So yes art “is in the eye of the beholder.”


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