16 mar. 2010

Is it really true that modern art, modernism in the arts generally, rejects beauty? I don't think so. If anything, it expands the purview of beauty to include things that are not pretty in a narrower sense. Ornette (or his producers) uses a phrase from Pound, "Beauty is a rare thing" as the title of the box set of his Atlantic recordings. So Pound must have cared about beauty, and Ornette too.

The paintings of DeKooning, Rothko, and Matisse are gorgeous. So too are the poetry of Reverdy and Lorca and the music of Stravinsky and Ornette himself. There is an oxymoronic quality in Thelonious Monk's tune "Ugly Beauty." In other words, a consciousness that new forms of the beautiful must be at the edge of mere taste, the limits of where a previous generation would have wanted to go.

Of course you can find examples of deliberate ugliness and overt condemnations of beauty too. There is a whole spectrum in modern and contemporary art, from very unproblematic prettiness to works that challenge anyone's limits. It seems very odd to me that, given this spectrum, anyone would want to make a one-sided and unnuanced argument.

4 comentarios:

Vance Maverick dijo...

I do think modern art has repeatedly challenged notions of beauty, though as you say, when the challenge is successful, the result is to achieve beauty on broader terms. So much so that it would be hard to find uncontroversial examples of ugliness in art. And so much so that I find it difficult to get a purchase on e.g. Greek sculpture, which though undeniably beautiful in a narrow sense lacks the sort of "character" I'm used to appreciating. Also, of course, the aesthetic "move" of finding beauty in ugliness is everywhere in the twentieth century, including lots of popular work.

Are you responding to Wendy Steiner? I haven't read that, but I think she's coming at the question from the tradition of aesthetics in philosophy, which is its own detached world.

Jonathan dijo...

I am responding to her and people like her, but didn't want to mention her name simply because I'm responding to a vague memory of her argument rather than to the argument itself and didn't want to misrepresent her in case I didn't remember the argument properly.

Vance Maverick dijo...

In any case, yes, I do think modernism can be said to "reject beauty", but only if we mean by that a specific notion of beauty: one which sees beauty and ugliness as opposite ends of a one-dimensional continuum, which can be judged objectively. This is still with us, of course (notably in matters of personal appearance), but I don't see how it will ever regain dominance in art.

Vance Maverick dijo...

Peter Schjeldahl in the latest NYer, on Dix: "He had no use for beauty; he called a house on Lake Constance, in the Alps--now a museum--where he lived after 1936, 'so beautiful that you have to vomit.'" Now obviously Dix did have a personal use for this beauty, namely to live in it. (Schjeldahl is usually more alert than this.) But evidently Dix found it useful or amusing to pretend to disdain beauty in public.