|The Avengers (2012) : beauty?|
"If the contemplation of something beautiful arouses pleasurable feelings, this effect is distinct from the beautiful as such. I may, indeed, place a beautiful object before an observer with the avowed purpose of giving him pleasure, but this purpose in no way affects the beauty of the object. The beautiful is and remains beautiful though it arouse no emotion whatever, and though there be no one to look at it. In other words, although the beautiful exists for the gratification of an observer, it is independent of him."
Eduard Hanslick; music critic (1854)
|Picasso (1937) : not beauty?|
* * *
Why Beauty Matters (BBC2; Roger Scruton; 2009) video 59'
Philosopher Roger Scruton presents a provocative essay on the importance of beauty in the arts and in our lives.In the 20th century, Scruton argues, art, architecture and music turned their backs on beauty, making a cult of ugliness and leading us into a spiritual desert.
Using the thoughts of philosophers from Plato to Kant, and by talking to artists Michael Craig-Martin and Alexander Stoddart, Scruton analyses where art went wrong and presents his own impassioned case for restoring beauty to its traditional position at the centre of our civilisation.
Roger Scruton is well meaning, and, at the very least, provides a crash course in Aesthetics for dummies, which would have been perfect circa 1900. Unfortunately, it is a backward looking at Art, as it was conceived until the XXth century, a conservative and classicist approach to the wider spectrum of artistic possibilities. So for people who believe that everything is subjective and that only what they like can be art, that what doesn't fit their taste cannot be art, that there cannot be such a thing as an objective standard... this documentary answers to their uneducated self-deception.
But this is the basic understanding of Art explained to beginners. Like I said, it was perfectly valid and complete until the XIXth century, because art had always been conceived and admired by and for these conservative ideas. And, these classic artists might have achieved the highest peaks of perfection in Art history.
However, it's not because Modern Art, Contemporary Art or Conceptual Art may not (yet) be as perfect and transcendent as 2000 years of "classical" history (like DaVinci, Michelangelo, Raphaël, Botticelli, Rambrandt, Wermeer, Velazquez, Dürer, Rubens, Titian, David...), that we should dismiss them entirely.
Scruton makes two mistakes that conveniently rule out or disqualify anything that isn't "pretty", "sacred" or "ancient", one is theo-centrism (equating true art with sacred art because he's a religious believer) the other is being retrograde (judging NEW art movements through the obsolete paradigms that could only validate CLASSICAL art).
Speaking of "beauty" is already a self-limitation. Even if I agree with most of what he says, with the gist of his argument (if we understand a broad definition of "beauty" as including a more modern acception of beauty, less about cuteness or transcendental holyness, and more about a conceptual idea of aesthetic), Scruton still instills the whole discourse of outdated references that new art just cannot live up to, precisely because it was produced in reaction to these classical canons of beauty. The Classical Age being outdated, doesn't mean the old masterpieces aren't as great as they used to be. But that the definition of art that was pretty much consistent throughout millennia, has encountered many transformations, mutations, revolutions, in the last century alone. And to account for these changes (which brought us Picasso, Monet, Kandinski, Cézanne, van Gogh, Matisse, Mondrian, Warhol, Schiele, Miro, Chagall, Klee, Malevich, Dali, Ernst, Modigliani, Giacometti, Bacon...), we cannot continue to refer to a definition of Art that only validates the Classical Age.
Beauty is no longer prettiness. Art is no longer figurative. Art is no longer material. Art is no longer a simple object, a product of the art market. What I mean is that Classical Art is still considered great art as always, the only difference today is that the expanded definition of art is more tolerant of non-classical experiments, thus the advent of Modern Art, Surrealism, Cubism, Constructivism, Abstract Art, Conceptual Art, Minimalism, Postmodern Art, Contemporary Art, Performance Art, Digital Art, Virtual Art...
I understand he's angry at Duchamp, Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst, Michael Craig... for discrediting the prettiness and meaningfulness of figurative/sacred art. But it's a very simplistic way of looking at the history of arts. It's not because you don't find it pretty, yourself personally, that it isn't, or that it cannot possibly be considered art.
The market of art which gives sometimes an overestimated attention to artists who seemingly don't seem to put much efforts in their work, has its excesses and perversions. But the mercantile market of art, hic et nunc, doesn't define what we should or should not accept as art, now and for posterity. In 2009 for Scruton, or today for us, we just CANNOT fall back on such antiquated definition of art, even if we don't understand the point, the substance, the purpose of everything going on in the realm of Contemporary Arts.
- Eye of the Beholder (Philoctetes Center 2007) video 1h46'
- How beauty feels (Richard Seymour; May 2011; TED) video 17'
- Individual character and ideas of beauty (Alexander Nehamas; Princetown; 2011) video 51'26"
- Truth, Beauty, and Goodness Reframed in the Digital and Global World (Howard Gardner; Harvard; 2011) video 1h25'
- Emancipation du jugement de goût (Kant) / Object and Substance / Perception de la beauté cinématographique (Merleau-Ponty)