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Old 04-26-2012, 03:20 AM
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Re: Is art merely the pursuit of beauty?

Quote:
Originally Posted by jonathanmehl
In an article in The Central European Journal of Aesthetics Karol Kuzmany claimed that “the aim of all art is the creation and representation of the beautiful” (229).
I'm curious to know what other people think. Is art merely the pursuit of the beautiful, or is there more to art than that? I believe that art is much more than that, but I'd love some feedback to see what others think about that claim.

I think that's a cultural answer, though I naturally had the reaction "Why is the pursuit of beauty 'merely'?" I think it is as valid as any other purpose for art, and that the purpose or meaning of art is culturally driven.

A Maori is going to wear and carve art that tells the world who he is, what he's done and who he's related to on his most important objects and all over his body and face in tattoos. He might be confused at the idea of art that doesn't carry that sort of message.

In egalitarian tribal societies everyone in the tribe can do the tribal arts, or everyone of the right gender for that form and they get split between genders. Some people specialize in it. There are great artists among the Maori whose interpretations of those traditional forms make them highly sought after, highly paid and whose results are breathtakingly beautiful - including that beautiful to Westerners who can't read them.

We have the Lascaux paintings and most of the articles I've read about them speculate that they were hunt charms or ritual pieces used as part of religious ceremonies or magic or both. That explanation makes sense but the truth is that the Lascaux people, those proto-French, may just have liked paintings and created galleries of public art for the tribal people to come in and visit with an interactive version where children grooved a wall while held up by their parents. We don't know the local meanings of that art.

Pretty obviously, some Western art is not about beauty. Some of it's about ugliness or the absence of beauty. Some of it's got political or social messages and may or may not also have beauty. The non-beautiful artworks are so deliberately ugly that they are a response to beauty. The artists explain them as a conscious rejection of beauty. So it's a dialogue with beauty, not something that ignores beauty.

It takes learning to appreciate foreign art not from cultures we know. The more we study it, the easier it is to see the beauty in it. Yet that beauty is always there. About half the people who see a good Maori facial tattoo will stare and go "Wow, that is so beautiful. Dude, you put up with a lot of pain for beauty."

The other half, the xenophobic ones, will see the Maori as a terrifying figure, a monster, a distortion of everything human because, egad, he carved up his face with tattoos.

When I seek what's universal in art, I look to tribal societies and the earliest known artworks. Art and the capacity to appreciate it are human. "Human" has to encompass more than one species, Neanderthals had shell jewelry with pleasant designs.

I don't think the pursuit of and reaction to beauty is "merely." I think that may be at the heart of human art, all human art - and that beauty is modified by cultural values. It is communication. You can communicate something ugly so beautifully that it has a more intense impact - and that's what all the "ugly" artists are doing.

Foreign works and unfamiliar traditions may read as hideous because they don't fit your perceptions of beauty, once they're understood their elegance comes through and you can say the Nuclear War Head in the Chicago Art Institute is incredibly powerful - it has the beauty of a true and intense recognition of the horrors of war. It's almost the experience of finding a rotted skull minus the smell and larger than life. It is art in the service of a topical meaning - and I think its anti-war meaning might cross cultures, or be misunderstood in interesting ways.

I can imagine aliens looking at it thinking we were a very cruel species who made it in order to glorify a particularly sadistic warlord. Ideas of beauty change. Ideas of meaning change. The capacity to appreciate beauty and appreciate powerful communication in dance, art, music, story - that's human.

Things get simple at the instinct level - and also much more varied in the details. Instincts are vague and art is an instinct, both creating it and appreciating it. What we do with that is cultural and social.

There's my view. I enjoyed the rest of the thread too, but I'm only answering the original question in this post.
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Old 04-26-2012, 05:28 AM
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Re: Is art merely the pursuit of beauty?

Quote:
Originally Posted by bemoored
(1) does that correlate with anything of the artist's personality aside from art?
(2) do I have the capability to infer it to any extent from my own processing of the image? Without invoking evolutionary biology ideas, we're inveterate people watchers for good reason, and I think it's reasonable that I might - and of course there is likely to be a healthy amount of projection and confabulation mixed in; to me that's the nature of the relationship of the conscious mind to the non-verbal. In conjunction with the strong intuition I do sense something, I hold it as likely for now with a dose of philosophical skepticism. You might not. Things are as they are.

I think in some cases yes and others no. However you as a viewer not having the artist there for comparison are inevitably thrown back on your own resources and imagination. Is the role of the artist is perhaps only to trigger that imagination and interest not necessarily to direct it down any specific course self revelatory or otherwise? I don't know. There are different levels of narrative content in art from say a comic strip that is mostly narrative to an abstract that has no narrative content at all. So at the end of the day you may have a feeling that you have connected but it is just that a feeling, it is certain it is "yours" but entirely uncertain that it relates to the artist.
In my own experience as an artist I find that when making a painting I loose the sense of self if I am working well. This is confirmed by CT scans of people involved in creative activities such as music and art, the brain activity drops in a similar way to meditation. In contrast when we really are presenting ourselves to the world in a social situation, conversation etc, the brain lights up like a christmas tree! I don't know how the gallery viewer reacts as far as brain activity goes, has any such work been done?

Returning to the original question, I think the unpalatable answer may be that Art is the result of the pursuit of the attention of others for one's own glory and self esteem!
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Old 04-26-2012, 07:49 AM
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Re: Is art merely the pursuit of beauty?

Art seems to me to be the pursuit of more than beauty, at least if beauty is defined as "aesthetic pleasingness".

Art seems to be about evoking a response in the viewer, touching a nerve, producing an effect. This is often a response to beauty but not always.

As for "seeing" the artist in art, this is at least in part the psychological phenomenon of transference and counter transference. What we see is a reflection of ourselves. Humans are also pattern seeking creatures, and one of the most familiar patterns is the human form, as such we tend to see it everywhere. Perhaps Degas is right, we are made for looking at people.
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Old 04-26-2012, 10:50 AM
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Re: Is art merely the pursuit of beauty?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Horsa
Art seems to be about evoking a response in the viewer, touching a nerve, producing an effect.

Say you touch a nerve, or produce an effect.... so what. If they're responding to worthy art, however, they're likely responding to the beauty.

Art is not for upsetting. We already live in an upsetting world, beauty is consolation. Beauty reminds us all is well.
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Old 04-26-2012, 12:38 PM
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Re: Is art merely the pursuit of beauty?

I know there's a lot of cross-talking going on in this thread, and here's more.

bemoored: I like that quote at the end of your post and later, when I'm not at work, I'll check out the link. I always enjoy "reading you," even though I don't always understand what you're saying. But you're certainly not the only one around here (all men, I'm realizing) that I don't understand. I hear you all are from another planet, which I suppose explains something. Anyway...

...okay SLG, I've slipped into my silky...boxing trunks and red leather....boxing gloves and I suppose I'm up for one teeny tiny round. Olive Oyl... you have repeatedly spoken of the masterful, polished work of art as something that will not let you in. Yes. Instead you are drawn to works that reveal flaws... messes... accidents. Yes. Does that say anything about either approach to art, or rather does it say something about you? About me. What makes you uncomfortable with the flawless, masterful work of art? Already explained. Does it establish an ideal toward which you feel you can never aspire? Yes. Personally, I recognize that I will never paint with the assuredness and mastery of Ingres... but that does not lessen my admiration. Who said I don't admire? I'm not trying to put you on the spot... This is exactly putting me on the spot....just suggesting that if a work of art fails to resonate with us, it might just as likely be a failing on our part as upon the part of the artist. Okay, I have failings. There! How was that? Was that as satisfying for you as it was for me?

Look, "my" masters, who have been favorites forever, happen to be Cezanne and Matisse - both interchangeable as my number one. These days I lean more toward Cezanne. Picasso always seems be in the number three spot and I've thrown Manet in there next as my "newest," as well as my "oldest" love. All above Guston, btw. I would say they all do "masterful" work but I don't think any of them are primarily appreciated for their "polished-flawless-technically perfect-tightly rendered" painting styles. When I've see an Ingres in person, I've stopped before it and maybe I even gasped a bit. I genuflect and make the sign of the cross. I bow deeply at the waist. I curtsy. I admire and respect and appreciate the beauty of his technique. Then I'm done and move on and that's that. Obviously that's not YOUR reaction, but it's mine. Recently, I saw Cezanne's, "The House of the Hanged Man" (in some book, maybe about the Musee D'Orsay collection). I ended up staring at that little picture for 10 minutes and couldn't stop. Didn't want to stop. I thought it was such a satisfying look - the composition made beautiful "sense" and every brushstroke seemed to be somehow perfectly placed. The light was gorgeous, especially as seen in the book print (and not over the web as I've noticed). I think I read he was pretty happy with it because it came closest to what he was trying to achieve - mastering his "light lessons" from Pissarro. Anyway, it gave me goose bumps. It moved me. And I liked that this little lit-up house held inside itself such a dark tragedy. It confirmed to me all over again why he's still the best of the best - for me.

And so as a "member of the audience" I'll say I like beauty but don't care about perfection - either in art objects, the artist, in you or in me, or in much of anything. Like I said, I want to disturb the pretty and embrace the ugly and vice versa. (Note that I like boxing AND yoga). THIS is what "turns me on" and if I get to be a "critic" then that's my own particular critical preference. Right or wrong or dumb or naive or whatever, its really not worth arguing about. Which we're not doing, because I took off my boxing duds two paragraphs ago. And besides, I want to play nice with you, SLG. I know...!!! Let's dress up and each take turns playing beauty or the beast. You can choose first.
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Old 04-27-2012, 12:57 AM
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Re: Is art merely the pursuit of beauty?

Olive Oyl... It's never been an "either/or" for me. Yes, I love Ingres. But he was someone I came to admire over time. I have always loved Rubens...



Yet his paintings, for all of their "mastery", are incredibly fluid and painterly.

If I were asked to choose a favorite 20th century painter I just might go with
Max Beckmann:



In fact I did "Honors" work in art history on German Expressionism... and especially Beckmann

Not far behind... I'd place Matisse:



If I can in any way relate to your concept of not being able to find a way into the work of an artist it would be to admit that the majority of the art that has the strongest impact upon my own work has been that which is strongly drawing-based... based on line and sculptural form.

Rembrandt:



Turner:



Monet:



Pierre Bonnard:



... all remain artistic Gods to me. I never miss a chance to see their work. Yet at the same time I cannot grasp how to work in such a manner. I need the structure of the line and solid forms. In all of these artist's works the form is breaking down... fragmenting... or fracturing in the light... and this is something I greatly admire... appreciate... envy... even love... but I recognize that it is far removed from my own mode of thinking when it comes to making art. Quite honestly, I'd take Bonnard over Picasso... Turner over Ingres... and Rembrandt over almost anyone (Michelangelo... and perhaps Rubens excepted)... in spite of the fact that I recognize that I cannot work... or think in the same manner. Michelangelo, Botticelli, Rubens, Ingres, William Blake, Degas, Beckmann... even Picasso, on the other hand... make perfect sense to me in terms of line and form. Yet in no way do I have a preference for one approach over the other as a member of the audience for art.

The "Beauty and the Beast"? Now there's a theme I have been toying with in various sketches... and indeed both "the beauty" and "the beast"... as I have envisioned them... are not what you might expect...
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Old 04-27-2012, 01:32 PM
bemoored bemoored is offline
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Re: Is art merely the pursuit of beauty?

Quote:
Originally Posted by treeshark
In my own experience as an artist I find that when making a painting I loose the sense of self if I am working well. This is confirmed by CT scans of people involved in creative activities such as music and art, the brain activity drops in a similar way to meditation. In contrast when we really are presenting ourselves to the world in a social situation, conversation etc, the brain lights up like a christmas tree! I don't know how the gallery viewer reacts as far as brain activity goes, has any such work been done?
Interesting! As far as research into brain activity of the gallery visitor and related, I've looked at similar investigations on brain functioning and music but hadn't thought to look with regard to visual art until you mentioned it. Google fMRI art and poke around and you'll turn up quite a bit, e.g. http://www.plosone.org/search/simple...E&query=beauty turns up articles with titles such as "Toward a Brain-Based Theory of Beauty" and "The Golden Beauty: Brain Response to Classical and Renaissance Sculptures". Looks like some interesting reading if you're inclined.

And relevant I hope to the topic of the OP. My apologies to all for the crosstalk, but I'll say that your posts and the posts generally in this thread are giving me reason to rethink about my experiences re artwork divulging something of the essential nature of the artist. It's certainly notable that there doesn't seem to be a consensus recognition of this here in a community of painters; and while I don't know, my experience with improvising musicians such as it is would lead me to think their responses would be different, though I might be projecting here again. In interviews I've read it seems that the conversation is definitely more likely to turn to the mystical with an improvising musician than a with a visual artist.

And neurologically, though they are both 'art', higher-order processing of hearing (music) and vision (visual art) appear to be mediated by very distinct areas of the brain, with the temporal lobe being very involved in musical processing but not as much (statistically at least across a population) in visual art. And the temporal lobe appears to be heavily implicated in feelings of mysticism, the paranormal, deja and jamais vu, etc. (e.g., google temporal lobe epilepsy).

Or feelings of connection, senses of 'at-one-ness'. Maybe I have - or maybe more pertinently, seek - more temporal lobe involvement in my response to visual art, and that might lead to, or intensify, the strong sense that through it I acquire some vital but ineffable 'knowing' of the artist through their work. Which doesn't mean that any impressions have no correlation to reality, but it sure doesn't mean that they do.

Anyway, to me this, and the variety of ideas here in this thread, all indicate that while a platonic approach to understanding art can lead to some insights, to take the platonic dogmatically in real earnest - e.g., a serious essay stating "the aim of all art is..." - is imo to risk adopting an unnecessary, very restrictive conceptual and thus perceptual filter. People are more varied, changeable, and complex than that. I won't get into whether it's all physics, but if it is, it's not simple physics.

Last edited by bemoored : 04-27-2012 at 01:42 PM.
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Old 04-27-2012, 01:57 PM
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Re: Is art merely the pursuit of beauty?

An interesting twist here. One group was shown a Rembrandts which were presented as genuine, another group were shown the same images and told they were fake... the response seems to show that knowledge of the artist plays a considerable part in art appreciation.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-16032234
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Old 04-28-2012, 08:17 AM
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Re: Is art merely the pursuit of beauty?

are we really equating beauty with the ignorance of the reality around us? denial is a group spectator sport that finds sanctity in the herd cheering. artists that lead toward the definition of beauty are bought souls that crowd the bus of the clueless. i can pray that technique will make my beautiful artwork immortal but actually, there is little beauty in mortality. i only wish to make someone think and maybe ponder the potential of the beauty within the soul. Beauty is a personalized mask of perfection, a reflection; beauty in art speaks to the innerface and is the face of a living reality
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Old 05-01-2012, 12:35 PM
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Re: Is art merely the pursuit of beauty?

The key word, in the opening question, sage, seems to me to have been "merely". There is nothing "mere" about beauty... nor does the pursuit of "beauty" shut the artist off from pursuing other goals as well. Is the artist whose work is clearly "beautiful" really "ignorant" of "reality"? That seems rather presumptuous. I might also ask who defines "reality" and are you assuming that art is limited to "reality"?

Denial? Denial of what, Saje? It seems to me that you are suggesting that all those who do not see the same "reality" as yourself... or that limit their art to such "reality" are to be dismissed as a mindless herd... that all those who dare to create an art or unabashed "beauty" are mere sell-outs (bought souls that crowd the bus of the clueless). I suspect that many artists here and elsewhere would take offense at such a comment, and if they were cruel might suggest that your dismissal of "beauty" is really rooted in little more than envy and the inability to create something beautiful yourself.

Artists have a broad range of abilities, experiences, interests, passions, desires, and goals. Is it not just possible, ol' wise saje, that we might expect that as a result there would be an equally broad range of art and that the strongest artists and the best work to be found in every form, genre, style is of some real merit... not to be dismissed as the work of "bought souls that crowd the bus of the clueless" simply because it differs in aim or goal from our own work?
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Old 05-03-2012, 05:43 PM
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Re: Is art merely the pursuit of beauty?

Quote:
Originally Posted by jonathanmehl
In an article in The Central European Journal of Aesthetics Karol Kuzmany claimed that “the aim of all art is the creation and representation of the beautiful” (229). I'm curious to know what other people think. Is art merely the pursuit of the beautiful, or is there more to art than that? I believe that art is much more than that, but I'd love some feedback to see what others think about that claim.

Call me old-fashioned, but I agree (visually) with Matisse, who ignored the wars going on all around him and painted his many still lifes, interiors, and odalisques in direct defiance of ugliness. I would rather look at something beautiful, so that’s what I try to create. Of course, one person’s ugliness is another person’s beauty, but, IMHO, it is up to the artist to show beauty in all its myriad forms...

It all depends where you’re “coming from,” I suppose. I once knew a very beautiful girl, an art student, who painted very dark, ugly paintings – she was operating from a dark region of her soul, due to familial upheaval, so her work was not beautiful in a conventional sense. I think she gave up painting for a "normal" life, and the rest will no doubt be a life of suppression, but I do remember those murky, black, impenetrable paintings she made...

I’m also reminded of the old Chinese painters who would not paint anything objectionable, preferring to use art as an uplifting tool – it was “against the rules” to cause consternation, so any and all subjects were carefully chosen to remind everyone how beautiful life can be, or should be. Personally, I feel life is beautiful, so my own artworks reflect this. I’ve certainly seen plenty of ugliness, but art CAN remind us of things worth preserving, contemplating, or feeling...
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Old 05-03-2012, 10:14 PM
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Re: Is art merely the pursuit of beauty?

Call me old-fashioned, but I agree (visually) with Matisse, who ignored the wars going on all around him and painted his many still lifes, interiors, and odalisques in direct defiance of ugliness.

Some would (and did) refer to Matisse and Bonnard's work of the period as an expression of denial. I am more of a mind with the critic who suggested that continue to create works of beauty... to insist on the continuation of beauty... in the face of such horror and ugliness was in fact an act of great bravery and faith. It expressed a faith in the fact that the ugliness would eventually end and humanity would again return to beauty.

In a way, Matisse and Bonnard remind me of the great conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler and the composer/conductor Richard Strauss. Both composers made the conscious decision to remain in Germany during the war... for which many accused them of being collaborators or sympathizers with the Nazis... or even Nazis themselves. Yet both chose to remain out of the belief (perhaps naive) that in spite of the horror that was the Third Reich, the people of Germany needed to be reminded of the great aspects of the culture. Both Furtwängler and Strauss made repeated efforts to perform the music of composers black-listed by the Nazis, including the Mahler and Mendelssohn (due to their Jewish heritage).
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Old 05-04-2012, 11:22 AM
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Re: Is art merely the pursuit of beauty?

It expressed a faith in the fact that the ugliness would eventually end and all humanity would again return to beauty. When I read this, my first thought was that this “faith” seems so hopeful and idealistic, and the “fact” that ugliness will someday go away seems naïve or romantic. I’m not saying that holding these thoughts isn’t “bravery,” I’m only saying *I’m* not able to understand beauty that way. In fact, after relooking at (that puzzling!) Cezanne, some of my feelings become even clearer. Often when I see his work (the exception being the still lifes), at first glance I think, “eww.” His work IS a little ugly. It looks either unfinished or overworked – sometimes both in the same painting. Those skewed angles can make things appear clumsy and awkward. There’s nothing refined, elegant, polished or perfected here. Nothing really inspirational or uplifting – on the surface, anyway. You see his struggling and it seems “brutish” and here is where (just now realizing) I find a connection to Guston. I’m sick of mentioning him, but I’m learning all sorts of lessons through him and I’m still obsessed so, oh well. I feel that both were searching “below the surface” for something. I’m not able to articulate this clearly, but I remembered I wrote down a quote from earlier this year and so, David Sylvester, in “About Modern Art,” can express my muddled thinking for me. This quote convinces me - although I didn’t need much convincing - that art is not “merely” the pursuit of beauty, but mere beauty is not always a satisfying enough of a pursuit for some. In Cezanne, I see both ugliness and beauty in equal measure and so, how does "it" (what?) get any better than that?

“Cezanne’s art gives us both the sense of flux and the sense of endurance, and it gives us each of them to an extreme degree. It is no safe, comfortable compromise between these opposites. It pushes each of them to the limit, and somehow holds them in balance, reconciles, yet with neither diminished by the other’s presence. The only other artist I can think of who succeeds in reconciling opposites pushed to the same degree is Beethoven. Polarity is, in one way or another, and at one level or another, perhaps the dominant characteristic of Cezanne’s art. It certainly is of his thought. Those who talked to him were impressed by his need to balance any affirmation by immediately asserting the opposite. His inconsistency was almost laughable – no, it was not laughable; it was the result of his recognition of the appalling complexity of what is. Perhaps this is why he, who loved to theorize, scorned theory – because in words he could only contradict himself in sequence, couldn’t say two opposite things at once. For in his painting he could and did do this. Thus his painting lays extreme emphasis on the flatness of the picture surface, while at the same time it makes the solidity of the motif utterly tangible. It is intensely passionate, but also intensely reflective. It is deeply concerned with order, yet deals in the muddle of the appearance of everyday things. It is revolutionary, yet rooted in museums. It gazes persistently outwards at nature, yet imposes on what it sees certain insistent and compulsive rhythms expressive of personal obsessions. In our lives nothing troubles us more than our inability to deal with those contradictions which we recognize in ourselves, in our feelings, our desires, our consciences – our inability to accept them and reconcile them. We tend to deal with such contradictions by closing our minds to the existence of one side or another or by evading them with the same feeble compromise. Perhaps it is because Cezanne’s art accepts contradictions to the full and finds the means to reconcile them that we always feel instinctively that it means so infinitely more than its ostensible object. What it means is a moral grandeur which we cannot find in ourselves.”
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Old 05-04-2012, 06:40 PM
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Re: Is art merely the pursuit of beauty?

I have recently been reading some works on painted and carved whare (houses) in the maori tradition and of particular note was the unrestrained disgust of many early missionaries at the 'perverse, ugly, distorted, pagan' images of the whakairo, even though they admitted that these were not gods or idols. In contrast I consider the same works to be beautiful and evocative.

Customarily the the carvings and woven panels (tukituki) in a whare whakairo are symbolic representations of ancestors and so a celebration of and guide to genealogy. Even within this custom (as with the 'moko' or facial tattoo) there are innovations.

There is no 'standard of beauty' on which cultures can agree, on which artists and viewers within cultures can agree, and which acts as the only attractor for an individual. One man's tempest is another man's terror.

Art is the pursuit of art.
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Old 05-04-2012, 07:18 PM
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Re: Is art merely the pursuit of beauty?

Many years ago, in 1977 when I was a young "genius" (lol) artist studying under a great master, I, and a group of young people sat in a traditional hippy rap circle for a PBS series called "Art Is" which may or may not have actually been made (I never saw the finished result).

So, for many years, I have spent a lot of belly-button gazing time on the subject of "what art is." At the ancient age of Grandmotherhood, or maybe Cronedome, or Wisdom (debatable), I have concluded that Art is first, not a search, it is an answer to some question, just as yes, no, or, I lost my shoe is the answer to some question. Art is a language. Anything may be asked using art as an answer/ beauty can be asked, just as ugliness or pride, or balloon puppies.

Beauty is a technique. This may be revolutionary. Think about it. Going into earliest Renascence sculpture where figura surpentinata pretty much brought the old world to its knees. Figura serpentinata is not necessary, but it is artistic Your figures can be old, hairy, and scratching their arses.

But the impact might be considered to be lampooning the human condition rather than making a serious point. Beauty is an unreal thing. It is about measurement, angle, line. One subject is beautiful and one not so much because of fractions of measurement. Take this from a person who is not so good looking.

And by beauty, do you just mean people? There are beautiful cows and ugly cows. Beautiful fish and ugly fish. Move beyond people and you will see that beauty is simply one option. If I sculpted a cow, she would be serious, grand, a beauty in the world of cows. The bull would be massive, proud and Hemingwayesque.

Art is the pursuit of art. As
Clive Green said.
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