Have you become a silent partner. No, I have just been busy. Busy with practicalities regarding my private life and things I have going on elsewhere. Being here is so intense, that I easily forget that I existed before I came here and I will exist again when I go back. You feel like you have neglected some other areas in you life? I sometimes feel self-indulgent doing what I do, which at some points makes no sense. Ah yes, you mean the existential crisis every artist goes through once in a while, you think about all the terrible things people experience out there in the real world while you are sitting in you cozy studio, next to your Ikea lamp, and writing some very introversive rumble. Yeah, kind of just that.
But that reminds me of our seminar topic today, which was beauty vs. ugly. My argument was that beauty is not appreciated enough. We read Kathleen Marie Higgins article “Whatever Happened to Beauty?” prior class and I highlighted a phrase, where she actually quotes Arthur C. Danto saying “It is as though beauty were a kind of catalyst, transforming raw grief into tranquil sadness”. I think contemporary art practice could make more use out of beauty in this meaning. People do not want to confront uncomfortableness, because it is disturbing to them. They don’t want to get disturbed. So you think beauty could be used to transmit the message of uncomfortable subject matter into peoples consciousness? Exactly, isn’t that what art was originally developed to do? Art has been beautiful, and acceptable as beautiful all they way until the 20th century, when beauty all of a sudden became something we reject. Why is that then? Maybe because of in the 20th century we managed to do a lot of horrible things. Higgins writes in her article that “ After the World Wars and the Holocaust, after the many wars and atrocities since, we cannot, like God in Genesis, pronounce the world entirely good. To the extent that beauty says otherwise, we see beauty as kitsch.”. Humankind polluted beauty to the extent that it disappeared from the contemporary art practice. Only art work from the time before was allowed to remain beautiful. Time before? You know, the Past, the History, the Origin. The Western Canon. The subject matter in these pieces are often horrible, but it is beauty we see when we are looking at them. Beauty is used to make an unaccessible “thing” more accessible. Beauty can be the messenger, without being the message in itself.
Higgins also writes that “Nature, accordingly, provides the paradigm of beauty. Art is beautiful to the extent that it resembles the order of nature”. Nature is beautiful because it is not made by humankind. True wilderness is even more beautiful, because it has not even been affected by humankind. Art is always made by humankind, even if it represents nature, and can therefor never be truly beautiful?
Someone threw a notion in the air, that the contemporary art practice is about to transform when it comes to it’s relationship to beauty. That it is becoming more acceptable to work with beauty, even as subject matter, than it was before. Art about beauty is often critical, it plays around with the concept of beauty and ugliness, rather than addressing either one.
So what about you, where do you stand in the question relating to beauty in contemporary art practice? I am interested in beauty and I actually strive towards beauty. I find it pleasant and comforting, but it does not mean that there is no substance. As artist we have to work harder in order to find the balance. Just stating that beauty prevails anything that matters, is negligence. I think beautiful images are very difficult to make, and in the matter of fact, the moment I stopped trying to make them, they started coming to me. I find my current images very beautiful.
Photography is a very difficult medium when it comes to beauty. What is an ugly image? Maybe it is an image that is not appropriately exposed, not appropriately focused and not appropriately printed. So, an ugly image is a failed one? If it has failed in it’s attempts, then yes, it is ugly. Anything that has failed in it’s attempts, is ugly? Also humans? I don’t know, I haven’t read the article on ugliness yet. I get back to you when I have. But mainly the issue with photography is, that you can make an absolutely stunningly gorgeous photograph of something very ugly, and that does not make the image ugly. It is still a beautiful image. But it also bugs me, when you see a bad (=ugly) photograph of something beautiful, and it is considered to be a very beautiful image. You should not mix those two things up. Form and subject matter? Yes.
But what I want to say about beauty is, that it can be a hammer rather than wrapping paper if used correctly.
Amen. And actually I don’t suffer from an existential crisis, rather from an ephemeral one.