(Part One here)
I have been insisting on certain aspects of art that make it more particular than what some could validly accept for it. In doing so, I have maintained that it somehow, at least partially, acquires its value as such from representing truth. Yet, I mentioned I can enjoy contemplating the topic because I “enjoy the consuming beauty in art.
Before I go on, I will note that though I will not try to come with a careful academic definition of what beauty is, for the purposes of this post I think it safe to use it as a certain enjoyment found in beholding something.
You might then ask, “Is truth always beautiful?” Art is supposed to be beauty in some way or another, but reality seems not to be as kind as art is toward its subjects. Art, transmitting beauty even from tragedy, seems often oblivious to actual reality. It glorifies what some could hold shouldn’t be glorified at all: we see a black and white picture of a child starving and though it saddens us, we are attracted by a certain aspect of it that we could define as beauty while the actual kid couldn’t care less about beauty, nor does he see it or feel it. So art is thus an illusion, an insensitive fake.
And yes, it is a fake in that it is a creation that only seeks to portray some aspect of reality, aspects of a specific set of truths that it can aspire to convey. Though art could define a specific truth, which is more, universal than the many different circumstances in which it could arise, it cannot cover the whole of any of those particular circumstances or realities with every single element that forms them in time and space.
However, and looking back at the picture of the famishing child, when it soars above the part that is actual suffering (which in itself is not art) and looks at a truth lying somewhere within it, even faintly, and detects its thread in the whole canvas of reality, you cannot help but see a sort of beauty. The beauty is not for that child to behold at that moment and he is not expected to, but there is still a beauty in how the specific aspects of the event depicted by that picture play in the whole of reality; in detecting such traits through our shared humanity and existence even if we are never in the child’s exact position to experience. We feel some of that sadness and yet feel a certain pleasure in unearthing that particular aspect of reality, that piece of truth beyond the case in hand: and the part we thus take in it.
There is then an ultimate sense of coherence in the whole that is beautiful, unrestrained by the time and space that affect the actual event. Call it if you will the universal coherence—full of beautifully and chaotically interwoven chaoses—that simply and logically is; and from which we sometimes get to catch a glimpse of one of the threads that make part of it and feel the fascination for such a discovery for which art can be a vehicle. Art thus takes us from the physically restrained scene and gives us a look at the world through hints of threads of truth that connect it to the universal. We can’t help but finding delight in experiencing such a discovery through art, even if it is of just a faint distorted reflection of one of these threads.
Though I think part of this is somewhat touched upon in many of the quotes presented in part 1, here are a few others that I like and which more directly make a relation between beauty and art.
“An artist is an artist only because of his exquisite sense of beauty, a sense which shows him intoxicating pleasures, but which at the same time implies and contains an equally exquisite sense of all deformities and all disproportions.” — Charles Baudelaire
“Poetry is the art of uniting pleasure with truth.” — Samuel Johnson
“Poetry is the rhythmical creation of beauty in words.” — Edgar Allan Poe
Some of our attempts might simply fall short of accomplishing being a certain truth or at providing us through art at least a ring of a truth that is broader and more powerful than its elements. Yet, these works might end up being likeable, informative, interesting, entertaining, and/or worthy of admiration. Apart from this, it is important to bear in mind that the degree of triumph in creating something that brings a truth alive to the beholder can vary. Add to this the consideration that art can be found in many places: a note that is played in the exact right moment and thus brings something to life that is oddly specific in an otherwise dull formulaic tune; a sole inspired brushstroke in a color experimentation that carries with it a something whose effect you can share with many fellow observers; a story that concludes cheap and outright false principles that are built upon observations of truth we get to savor and experience; a false assumption conveyed in a poem that effectively expresses the author’s true perceptions—all are examples of this art I am talking about. This art is perhaps present in more places than expected, yet it seems to be attributed to more than required. And then again—as much as I’d like there to be a common thread in all art that would separate it from the merely creative or different—being an abstract concept, there could be a lot more “arts” with different qualities than the ones presented here. For this two-part contemplation, which obviously isn’t comprehensive, I decided to talk about these specific traits in it that make it to me more particular.
To wrap this up, here is a last quote about poetry that could restate, if extended to all art, a lot of what was described about it in these two posts.
“A poem should not mean But be.” — Archibald MacLeish