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August 10, 2005



Running with it.


> Running with it.

Me, too.


Well, I'm probably going to have to pass this round. Very busy, computer's broken. Let's see if Quigley makes his quarterly post!

H. Lowe

"Beauty is truth, truth beauty,"---
that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.
-John Keats


So I've heard. But I've never entirely agreed, which isn't to downgrade either truth or beauty.

H. Lowe

Yep, I saw it -thanks.
The point about Keat's quote is that Beauty is very far reaching to the depths of the great truth. Danto's comment,"Goya's Saturn Devouring His Children may be called many things, but to say it is beautiful is perverse." is so naive as to be laughable. Goya is telling the truth by that metaphorical image. He is telling it like it is, the truth, and thus Beauty. Beauty is NOT
champagne and frothy toppings. You may call that pretty or satisfying in a lovely sort of way.
Anyone who tells you truth is relative can go soak their head.
I am being a mite strong but this argument comes up again and again and it gets so fogged up.


H. Lowe: Thanks for amplifying on your earlier comment. Below is my attempt at a reply. I should note, just to clarify, that the sentence you quote ("Goya's Saturn Devouring His Children may be called many things, but to say it is beautiful is perverse.") is mine, not Danto's, as is the example included in it. Though my intent was to illustrate Danto's thinking, he's not responsible for the discussion of Goya, whom he does not mention.

I should also clarify that I don't see anything wrong with the "champagne and wedding cake" art I saw at the Clark (nor was it the only kind of art there, though it dominated.) It rocked, it fact, and while I'm open to other descriptions of it, it surely was beautiful. Champagne and wedding cake are good, tasty things, and what's more, their artistic equivalents don't have calories, sugar, alcohol or fat. So I don't worry about them.

I'd also agree with you, however, that beauty comes in different forms than that, and it certainly can have a relationship to truth. One can rightly speak of a beautiful equation, and when one sees a great Mondrian - no froth there - one gets a similar sort of feeling. All the elements cohere so rightly, in such a balanced fashion, as to make it beautiful. There's also emotional or psychological truth, the depiction of which can provide an expression that we recognize as beautiful. I'm sure there are others possible ways or examples, but in these two we can see truth and beauty join together in the form and content of different kinds of art.

So I'm very sympathetic to claims of truth for art, following the lead of certain lines of phenomenology. But to my thinking, Keats draws too tight a circle. There's more to either truth or beauty than his equivalence suggests. One thinks, for instance, of an alternative tradition of thought - that art works by feigning truth, by lying like Homer did. On the other hand, while truthful art may be aesthetically successful, it isn't always so by being beautiful. Sometimes the truth is ugly, sometimes it hurts. That truth is not necessarily good has itself been a subject for great art - think of the suicide of young Hedvig in The Wild Duck.

Beauty and truth don't necessarily always walk hand in hand, and there's no reason to believe that art and beauty should do so, either. I don't think that in any other area of artistic practice - literature, say, or theater, and so on - one would find the insistance that all examples of the form aim at the same end. Why should it be so for visual art? Especially when one can point to, as Danto does and I did at least once, examples of artists saying explicitly that they were not trying to create something beautiful - the opposite, in fact. Tying together vast, vital concepts like truth and beauty, it seems to me, offers as much confusion as anything else.

As for the Goya, I suppose we'll just have to disagree. I don't think it not being beautiful takes anything away from it, because there are other ways of succeeding as art. If it is truth that it offers, and I’m open to the idea, it is a profoundly disturbing kind. Lastly, if Danto's small book has any virtues, I'd say it's that it encourages the broadening of our ideas and language to more specific and appropriate ways of talking about how an artwork succeeds.

H. Lowe

Forgive my hastiness in confusing your authorship with Danto's.
A key word here between Beauty and Truth is revelation, in terms of an awesome experience (awesome not as slang)-- or the sublime, like the vastness of a mountain top view. A kind of elevation of the senses, making us more keen, more aware of what we are,i.e.The terrible beauty.
The beauty of the Wild Duck is the extraordinary way it is written, not the specific action or player.
At any rate, I enjoy all you have written and I'll leave all of this alone.


Forgive my hastiness in confusing your authorship with Danto's.

'Salright. No harm done. Though it reveals my awful compulsion to get the last word, I will add: the sublime isn't a type of beauty, it's another order of aesthetic experience - that's part of why we make the distinction. As for The Wild Duck, I'd agree that it's aesthetic power comes from the writing (and, in an actual production, all of the other elements - acting, design, etc.) But its central point about the destructive power of truth is, I think, to the point when equating the former with beauty.

Thanks for the good word - it's always a pleasure to receive comments here.

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