Columnist for Monday, 5/21 - Wanton Hussy

Art and Beauty


My Personal Revenge on Plato


Which brings us to: What Is Art? Since this has evidently been on many minds in Cant lately, and since I read all these columns and spent a fair amount of time last week staring at Mr. Pasha and his Cat, I too have thought about Art a fair bit lately. To be honest, far more than I probably ever have before. Why, you might ask, have I never considered this hugely important question before in my life? Well, because it just didn't seem that important. Still doesn't actually, and hence this column. (Or is it an article? I can never decide.)

For me, Art is almost impossible to define beyond the ";I know it when I see it"; totally subjective school of thought. But many people seem to agree on several of the same pieces, and since we all know it when we see it sometimes (Michelangelo), even if we disagree about other times (Miro), there must be more to it than such a simplistic definition. Unless that's more proof of a universal subconscious thought pattern and some other new-agey stuff that I don't understand very well and don't really want to this evening.

The What is Art question in my mind really is built on a previous, more important question, What is Beauty? Art is man-made Beauty. Or is it? Well, its related, so lets start with that. Beauty is of course subjective, not just person to person, but moment to moment. The lad I thought a picture of perfect beauty in high school no longer makes me swoon in not-so-Platonic appreciation for his ruddy cheeks and delicately arched brows when I looks at his photo in the yearbook. My eyes and mind have aged, and I see more in his bearing and expression that I did ten years ago. But now I see more Beauty in a sunset and flower than I ever thought possible, or in the peaceful, drooling, eye-booger-encrusted face of my husband as he sleeps. (Not every day; sometimes I want to kick him until he gets out of bed, because it's not fair that I have to be up and he doesn't.)

But since I'm going nowhere with this, a stab at a definition: Beauty is something perceived by the senses which creates a moment of deep emotional peace and appreciation. (Take THAT, Plato! From the 21st century, Phaedrus and I stab at thee!) Beauty distracts you, catches your eye and attention, makes you pause a moment. And can be completely ignored when you are in a hurry or angry or otherwise unable to perceive it. Beauty does not exist without you, the observer. You must listen to the music, taste the sweetness of the peach, observer the patterns of the petals, and gaze upon the Art, in order for it to be Beautiful. Without you, it is only so many sound waves, edible matter, water, and canvas.

But what does this have to do with Art, you say? Can't Art be Ugly? I don't think so. Not Art with a capital, which is the kind of artwork people generally agree about, over time and history. "art" without a capital can be Ugly, but also isn't likely to stay the tests of time, provoke a sense of peace, or be appreciated for it's value in bringing Beauty to the observer. Art can be unpleasant, but still Beautiful; only "art" can be Ugly. With a lower case, you can still have the provocation of thought, an emotional response, but still not be Art. "art" can be artistic, without being Art. Warhol's prints of Marilyn Monroe (herself Art perhaps) certainly provoke thoughts in me (mostly along the lines of feminist observations about a lookist society) and emotions (mostly of strong distaste), but it's not beautiful, I don't think in 200 years anyone will remember it, and I refuse to call it Art. So there.

Ok, so that's a little confusing and possibly circular. You go ahead and write a better definition for Art, and I'll pretend to be thoroughly chastened. But to sum up, the coolest thing about Art, art, and Beauty, is that since they are totally subjective, everyone's thoughts as just valid or invalid as mine.

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