20 May 2007

Beauty... Continued


Geoff forgave me for calling him a motherfucker! And he wrote some interesting things about beauty, and that deserves its own post.

You know what I hate about beauty?

The way it turns into moral rectitude. Beauty is not useful if it's a way of distinguishing right from wrong, because that too-quickly becomes an according to whom problem.

Geoff, you list toward this when you equate compassion (that word again!) with beauty.

That said, you know as well as I do that I also love a lot of things about beauty, and that I use it often. Here is what I wonder when I deal with beauty:

When is beauty a crutch? When is it me collapsing into some romanticism or ease of knowing what is "right"? And is there a way to use beauty that is pioneering? That is about delving into the unknown instead of clinging to what is already known?

Generally, I fail the beauty quiz miserably. The more I use beauty, the less I am exploring, and the more I am knitting my brow about right and wrong, or just trying to get it done. I often use beauty to know where I am going, and that kind of beauty is boring and not useful!

Beauty is usually a marked trail that I hike along, or a compass that I whip out. But not always. A handful of times beauty has emerged after I have completely lost my shit and have been staggering blind with a serious deadline looming, convinced that I have totally fucked up and will wind up with nothing.

At this stage, I don't think beauty functions as a marked path because I don't control it and didn't demand it, although I am quite bossy and controlling, and would have if I could. Instead, it has all these emergent properties that I watch, or even follow. And so if I were to continue the outdoorsy metaphorin', I would say that I follow this beauty out of the forest or thicket or whatever to a new place, a place that I would not have gotten to if I hadn't gotten lost and found this beauty and clung to it.

So when Geoff says:

The one thing that is the common denominator in work that is considered beautiful is that it is compassionate. Compassion full. When an artist realizes in a work, or when a work realizes through an artist, past his or her navel, that we are all dealing with the same condition at some level. This requires intense accountability and stems from intense vulnerability... but every beauty full work from Felix Gonzales Torres to a cave painting (past all bullshit mental criticisms) has this root of compassion.

Well, I don't buy that, because to say that is to say that beauty is this external and universal goal that remains unchanged regardless of the context. Who knows how the folks in Lascaux were thinking about beauty? And in my opinion, FGT's work is about values like sharing that we consider good, and frankly I don't find that beautiful as much as I find it nice.

But I do still think that this awful word, compassion, or its equally mealy-mouthed synonym, empathy, are at the root of what is interesting or necessary here. And I see why Geoff used FGT as an example, because it is about shared experience, or the fact that, to quote the above quote, "we are all dealing with the same condition at some level." I don't mind admitting that what I am after is grand. It's that shared place, in which universal statements are not sophomoric, because Geoff is right. We are all dealing with the same condition at some

(um... existential?)

level.

I don't have any other big pronouncements to make about beauty, because mostly I wrestle with beauty and lose. But, on the rare occasions that beauty has been useful to me, it has led me to a place where it's not about me or anything else I know anymore.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Matt O. said...

There's a pretty interesting 2001 book by Elaine Scarry that I think takes on some of these questions Deb. On Beauty and Being Just. She argues that beauty in an object (or living thing, actually) is directly related to the abstract idea of fairness. And from there: a kind of physical reminder, or manifestation? of justice. It's been awhile since I read it, but I think her argument turns on the idea of mistakes (which maybe you're also getting at "a handful of times beauty has emerged after I have completely lost my shit"). that moment when you perceive something as beautiful that you didn't before. I'm fuzzy on the details, but I think she claims these moments are transporting, they take you out of yourself, directing your attention outwards and thereby lead to ethical behavior. I guess she's looking at it more from the perceiver of beauty direction, how do we find meaning in looking at stuff?--rather than what we're interested in --how do we make meaningful stuff? But still might be worth looking up.

21 May, 2007 12:43  
Blogger geoffrey said...

i hate coming to your blog when i have shit to do. damn you.

i am still finding a lot of assumption in your responses (and im sure i have assumed much of you). But i can see now that is more based on what we see in the word beauty.

And honestly, by reading what you have said it still feels like you are still looking at beauty in terms of what is "pretty". Even (though i'm sure it was done with full ironic flare) in that awful baroque romantic vomit of a painting you posted at top. Even in jest, that drags the idea of beauty into the realm of pretty again. Which has nothing to do with the idea of beauty i think/thought we were discussing.

And... when did beauty become a goal? Beauty can never be a goal, can it? Niether can compassion or vulnerability. Of course they weren't trying to be beautiful in Lascaux (egads, i'm sorry you took it that way). But they were all three...

Trying to paint a bull that you have seen, as best you can, with your fingers, on a wall in a dark cave, is just about as vulnerable as it gets, no?

No different from FGT wanting to make visual his feelings for his partner, and the pain of his death. (which you take as "nice", and i find that interesting...)

Niether gave a fuck what people were going to say about it, or if anyone would think it was beautiful. It is expression at it's purest (yes i said purest... don't freak out) form.

Now to the other assumption, that what i am saying about any of this lends itself to anything to do with right or wrong... You have to be thinking of beauty in old skool terms in order to make this jump from what i said. Just like that old skool definition of compassion we spoke of before. What i am talking about actually works to remove beauty and compassion from this moral high ground of judgement, separation, and condescension.

I can understand all of the criticisms and theory and stigma and disgust and cynicism that has built up around the words beauty and compassion and art 101 words like expression and vulnerabilty. I know the historical ramifications from genocide to religious fundementalsim. I understand how artists are scared to define or even use words like beauty...

and we continue down that path...

and then we wonder why the art world sucks balls, and the galleries are full of shit, and every neighborhood is gentrified, and the man made world is a giant corporate illusion?

seriously?

I mean is this really a fucking mystery?

when we are THIS scared of the words compassion and beauty?

people telling truths.

I am hunting a bull. I miss my lover.

And this... "wrestling"... with beauty is in itself beautiful, no? Because it is us... wrestling with our own nature... painting this fucking bull that we are hunting on the wall of a fucking cave in the middle of some fucking mountain for a culture to find thousands of years later and say holy shit... i'm not alone... and i'm not the center of the universe.

(cavepainting=blogging?)

PS... Beautiful is not the opposite of ugly. I'm just sayin....

23 May, 2007 17:02  
Blogger geoffrey said...

upon another read this evening (when i wasn't so high on coffee i could hardly see straight) i see that you and i really think of beauty (in terms of our own work/process) quite the same.

(And just so you know i don't think that you believe it is a goal... my post might have sounded that way... but only because i didn't want you to think I thought it was a goal...hee)

anywhooo i was thinking more this evening about it all, and i was thinking of Bell Hooks and her book "All about love" in which she defines love. She talks about how much people want to avoid defining love (mostly out of fear that we aren't loving), and we make it so mysterious, and then we wonder we don't know love, or how to love, and why our relationships are shit.

So she defines it, and it has never left me since, as "the will to nurture one's own or another's spiritual growth."

Now i'm no bell hooks (if only) and i don't know that there is any way to define beauty that would work for everyone (all that "in the eye of the beholder" shit), but i think that what i am saying is what it is for me.

Maybe beauty is just the aesthetic of compassion, i thought. And then i relooked up aesthetic for like the 100th time, and the adj. definition includes the word beauty like 4 times, so that's kind of funny. But the noun works... "a set of principles underlying and guiding the work of a particular artist or artistic movement." So i guess that for this particular artist, that is what it is. At least for the time being.

24 May, 2007 04:14  

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