Art, Philosophy

Repost: Who Murdered Beauty?

This was originally published at According to Hoyt in June 2014. 

We meet today, my friends, to attempt to solve a crime. A crime against all of humanity, one which is extinguishing the life from Art, Philosophy, and even Ethics. Unlike with a human life, the existence may yet be restored to Beauty, but it will take solving the murder first, so we may begin to breathe life anew into these noble causes. We may look at the vast scope of what we contemplate, and wonder: can we do this? Is it worth doing? What difference can we few make?

I say, let us discuss Means, Motive, and Opportunity, and in doing so, you may find answers to some of your questions. I may take an obscure path, through all of Aesthetics, but I think you will see our steps guided through the philosophy of the nature of humanity and soul, to the visual feast of Art.

Motives

The death of objective standards of beauty, which would lead in time to the demise of Art, and which was a visual indication of the state of affairs in which Ethics and Philosophy find themselves today, began innocently enough. The rise of the great philosophers in the 18th century was lauded as a new wave of humanism. Gone was the world’s dependence on that crutch, religion. Humanity was the be-all and end-all, and with death, there is only silence hereafter. A world ready to abandon those who would tell them what to do and how to do it, embraced this concept, only to find themselves very shortly back in the same situation.

“Beauty is no quality in things themselves: It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty. One person may even perceive deformity, where another is sensible of beauty; and every individual ought to acquiesce in his own sentiment, without pretending to regulate those of others.” (Hume 1757, 136)

With nudges and suggestions and sly winks, Hume, Kant, Nietzsche and many others removed the idea that there is a standard, be it for morals, beauty, or thought. If all is relative, relative to what?

The rise of Humanism brought about the rise of Nihilism, and “What began as a critique of divine authority due to humanist influences became part of a much wider social movement that criticised any kind of authority as ultimately unjustified…” (Nihilism and the Sublime Postmodern By William Slocombe, 2006, p11)   What had begun, in other words, as questioning authority, had become a rejection of any authority, of any standards or objective foundations. All must be destroyed, and a new thing brought up in the rubble, to separate the new from the old.

Means

Philosophers who were engaged in the building of the New Western Culture, one stripped of all that had gone before, inasmuch as they were capable of, affected the academic and literary bastions first, then slowly this rippled throughout the world as it was taught to those who would teach, and so on. Nietzsche was one of the ‘rockstars’ of this early movement. “As early as 1873, Nietzsche was arguing that human reason is only one of many peculiar developments in the ebb and flow of time, and when there are no more rational animals nothing of absolute value will have transpired (“On truth and lies in a non-moral sense”).” (Dale Wilkerson, ND)

Values, much less absolute values? Valueless. “Given that no absolute values exist, in Nietzsche’s worldview, the evolution of values on earth must be measured by some other means. How then shall they be understood? The existence of a value presupposes a value-positing perspective, and values are created by human beings (and perhaps other value-positing agents) as aids for survival and growth.” (Dale Wilkerson, ND) And here we come to the nut of the matter. If all is relative to the human experience, no more and no less, how can we possibly say one thing is better than another? If you see it as beautiful, and I do not, and you are louder than I am, in control over me, as socialists would have it (because in communal control, all are in control over all the others, unless there are some who are more equal than others, in which case they are in control. “The tendencies in socialism that came to be known as ‘Marxist’ or ‘Communist’ exemplify this position. The rhetoric was always that the goal was the direct and communal control of society for the common benefit of all members.” (What is Left? Nihilism vs Socialism, 2012)

“This is simply a statement of solipsism -‘without me the world does not exist‘ – although it does have wider reaching implications when it is perceived as the belief that nothing exists at all; that is, nothing exists, there is no reality against which to measure this, and no-one to measure it anyway. It is based upon the belief that reality is illusory, an arbitrary set of rules that has no meaning. The view that ̳nothing is real ‘can lead to either a magnificent furore of being the centre of the universe – without its perception by the observer, the world does not exist – or to complete impotence in the face of an overwhelming nullity, depending upon the extent to which this nihilistic formulation is pursued.” (Will Slocombe, 2003)

We are left now, in the age of progressives, post-modernism, and nihilism, with an emptiness. We dare not say ‘this is beautiful’ or ‘this is art’ or even, ‘this is true’ as they have taken all those things from us. They have cut the head off of beauty and proclaimed that it never existed, that there are no standards, and there ought not to be. All is relative… self-evidently relative to what they want, as they are in control.

Hegel, lecturing on Aesthetics, comments “Beauty and art does indeed pervade all the business of life like a friendly genius and brightly adorns all our surroundings whether inner or outer, mitigating the seriousness of our circumstances and the complexities of the actual world, extinguishing idleness in an entertaining way, and, where there is nothing good to be done, filling the place of evil always better than evil itself.” (Hegel) And here again, we have found one of the pieces of the puzzle. For the goal of the ones who would kill beauty is, after all, to deny the existence of “good” and “evil” in this world. Only through that may they claim that the ends justify the means, when the means is accomplished through the deaths of millions of innocents. Only in their world, there is no innocence, either, which is why they exalt those who prey on children.

Opportunity

We have abandoned the lists, my friends. PostModern art claims no standards, no need to be beautiful in any way but how shocking it may seem. Nothing is left to do, “The fundamental principle that there is nothing new to create has made the use of quotations an important stylistic feature of postmodern art.” (Andrea Gern, 2003) So why even bother trying? And certainly, if you look at a display of postmodern art, you will wonder why they did bother trying.

How can we be encouraged when it seems the Art we desire has been eclipsed by schools of thought like this? “An interesting set of ideas about art, its context and its relation to philosophy comes from the American philosopher and art critic Arthur Danto. What makes something a work of art is not, says Danto, to be found by looking at its obvious properties. Danto believes that what “makes the difference between a Brillo box and a work of art consisting of a Brillo box is a certain theory of art. It is the theory that takes it up into the world of art, and keeps it from collapsing into the real object which it is.” (Anja Steinbauer 2006)

“The “art” that has been produced over this time is revolting, and the general public dislikes and disrespects it. It has become a joke of sorts. Everything associated with “modern art” is so crazy and irrational, people have stopped paying attention to it. They believe it’s a stupid game played by intellectual snobs. They don’t understand the “art”, and don’t understand the game. They ignore it, deeming it to be useless.” (Jeff Landauer and Joseph Rowlands, 2001)

One of my favorite fantastic artists (in the sense of genre and art style rather than adverbial) is Bob Eggleton. He has been derided by the general art community for his choices of venue, but has a skill and style, and above all, beauty to his artwork that few can claim. He has this to say, recently, “The sad fact about the “Art World” is people get told to like/buy into certain fads, trends and fashions. This results in a lot of questionable art(“Is it art? What is it? It’s a line on a canvas”) being sold at very high prices. Read a quote where one artist said “If something doesn’t sell I go back and put a cat in it” as if his entire show was a failure because 7 out of 8 paintings sold. He was serious too. The reality of all this makes my stomach curdle. Along with overhearing a younger person talk about a museum with priceless works in it having utterly no interest to him, his interest being the latest smartphone tech. If people detect any notes of defeatism in me lately, I think it’s hearing this kind of mindset….”

Conclusions

I know this has been long, and tedious to read. I believe it is important to discuss this, the death of beauty, and how it came to pass. Only then can we discover how to revive it. Not art for art’s sake, but because in knowing what is beautiful, we can rediscover what is right, pure, and good. Only then can we reject that which is evil, destructive, and immoral. For there do need to be morals. Rejection of ‘immorality’ opens up the pit to whatever may slither forth and root itself in society, the breadth of human appetites, and this is why humanity has come to loathe itself.

Self-loathing, and a desire to be extinguished, turned society’s face from beauty. Our hostess, when I talked about this post and what I planned to discuss, pointed out that they want to add ground glass to every candy. All: fashion, toys, art, literature, everything a human can craft to elevate their existence, is immolated. You see, if they can elevate, they must be pulled down, in the name of equality. If all are to be common, and in common held, as socialism strives for, then none can achieve a higher plane, whether it is through the creation or appreciation of beauty.

But before I go, I would like to inject a note of hope into this conversation. I am an artist, however slight, and I love art. I do not wish to see it remain dead, and like so many others, I have despaired of what calls itself ‘Modern Art” or “PostModernism” or whatever other title it claims. It certainly rejects any suggestion of skill. But there is DeviantArt. It’s not an ideal platform, and there are many there who are beginning, or just haven’t the ability… but there are those who do, and my word, they are capable of great beauty. Many of them have little or no formal education, which might be why they have this heart for art, as they have not been told what they must (or must not) do. Take a few moments, as you can, to look here for exemplars of art and beauty, and know that this is truly modern art, of the like you will rarely see enshrined in a gallery or museum.

They proclaim that they are breaking all the rules, but as I referenced above, they are actually following what they are told to do, by an establishment that does not tolerate individuality. “Thus Marxism begins by recognizing that, strictly speaking, individuals do not atomically exist: “the real nature of man is the totality of social relations…” (John Rothfork, 1995) Perhaps it is time to remind people that there is beauty in the world, there are objective ways to measure it, and as one of the articles I read suggested, to do a scientific study on that which is beautiful. If it were subjective, and solely dependent on our own culture and experiences, how could I look at the art of a country and culture not my own, and think, ‘my how beautiful that is’?

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