I’ll try to give my broadest, most robust theory behind beauty in art:
Beauty in art is the iteration of God’s creation.
Yes, this is Platonic.
When a painter paints a portrait of a beautiful woman, he is iterating God’s creation directly. If he is painting a woman that is born of his own imagination, he is painting an iteration of the concept of female beauty, which is revealed through God’s creation.
This extends to music. Beautiful music is a display of the perfect mathematics that underly God’s creation – an ordering of pitches over time according to mathematical relationships.
Beautiful stories are those which show the divine struggle of man.
A person is “ugly” because their features stray too far from the ideal. We think of deformed people as ugly for this reason (forgive me for the bluntness, but this is the reality of beauty and the human condition in a fallen world – beauty is not distributed evenly).
What is ugly is that which is either a failure of the divine ideal, or else a perversion of it.
Art is “ugly” when it does not iterate either the ideal or the real competently, or else rebels against them directly. Good art can be of ugly things. Artistically depicting The Elephant Man can have a profound human effect, but that is specifically because the subject is not beautiful. The modern view, however, is that beauty is “creatable” either through invention of new aesthetics (modernism) or changes in the viewers’ subjective standards (post-modernism).
All this means that the modern views of beauty are not only based on nothingness, they may actually represent an evil.
The hubris of the modern artist was in thinking he could make new aesthetics that were not based on God’s beauty – in effect, that he could define beauty to mean whatever he wished. The post-modernist seeks to make such artificial standards arbitrary, further degrading the art.
Did the modern man accomplish this? I think any interaction with real people would reveal that it has NOT accomplished in any capacity to redefine beauty, but here is where we have a conflict of visions and assumptions.
The classical artist understands that man innately understands beauty, and his craft is to find ways to better iterate it.
The modern artist thinks that beauty can be programmed; if the common man detests his art, it is because they have not been educated properly. His craft is largely challenging the “assumptions” of the audience.
Consider the ugliness of both modern and post-modern art. Piss Christ is too common an example, but also a perfect one – it displays no skill or artistry, and in fact rebels against the concept of both. The artist didn’t make the crucifix which he desecrated; he didn’t make the jar which holds it; he didn’t make the film or the camera which took the photo. The only thing he made was his urine.
No skill. No Beauty. That’s modern “art” in a nutshell.
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Thank you, David. I was recently thinking of this very idea, the degradation of art by replacing beauty with the ugly, as beauty is an iteration of God and His creation. Thank you for touching on the post-modernists idea of challenging the assumptions of the audience. I saw this too often in Seattle, in the academic circles and in the venues that hosted new music concerts.
I speak from experience since I have done that myself. Don’t really bother with that anymore, but I did a fair bit of post-modern music in the mid 2000s.
Ironically – separated from all context – the Piss Christ photo is objectively beautiful.
The worst part for me are not the rank and file “fine artist” iterations that duplicate the madness, but the real, dyed in the wool believers. They know they are in rebellion to reality, and relish in the descent. They are the Beam Breakers.