We've discussed "beauty" in art before on this blog without reaching a consensus. Roberts, in his search for a definition of beauty also was unable to find a consensus. And, he suggests that in the contemporary art world ... beauty is suspect as an aim in art. It's almost a dirty word.
Roberts asks us to consider beauty, not as pretty or sweet, but as an emotionally moving experience. That is, the subject matter may be as horrible as depicting Christ, bloody and dead nailed to a cross or a woman weeping over her drowned child, but the passion and emotion that it evokes in the viewer makes the work beautiful. To me, this implies that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and not in the hands of the artist at all. As I read on, I don't think that Roberts meant to imply that, since what he later writes is contradictory.
The author objects to artists who "knock beauty" by reducing it to meaningless superficiality and an outmoded idea. It is his experience that producing beauty in art is actually quite difficult and that those who dismiss it lack understanding. He goes further to predict that artwork that is destined to last is probably going to have to address beauty. Roberts believes that the role of beauty in art is to uplift society. This argument is supported by noting the beauty of contemporary architecture - something that's not only desired but also valued.
What conditions are necessary for the creation of beauty in art? According to Roberts, the artist needs to engage in quiet time and exert patience when creating it. In other words, stop and smell the roses. He feels that, to express beauty we must engage in silence because visual beauty produces silence in us. I had that reaction the first time I stood before The David in Florence, Italy. I could neither speak nor take my eyes off the statue. A friend of mine wanted to take a picture of me standing in front of the statue, and I said "No - no pictures. The beauty for me is in remembering how it felt. A picture can't capture that."
So, the title of this book is Creative Authenticity. What's the relationship between authenticity and "beauty"? Roberts finds authenticity in the depth of the artist's feelings, which are the sole means by which beauty can be infused into art. By contrast, he brings up my favorite "poster child" for kitsch - Thomas Kinkade. Although the "artist" has a large following and is laughing all the way to the bank, his art isn't authentic. It's a manipulation - a product for commercial consumption. But, you might ask, what about Andy Warhol? Didn't he aspire to do the same thing and yet his work hangs in world-class museums. The difference is in the meaning - the intent of the artist. Warhol's work is about society's relationship with commodities. Kinkade's work, although he says it's about "light," is really about cashing in. He could be producing cute widgets and the effect would be the same.
At the beginning of this chapter Roberts defines beauty in art as an evoked emotion of the viewer. Here, he says that beauty can only be infused into a work of art through the depth of the artist's feelings. I'm having trouble bridging the gap in his logic, because an artist's expressed feelings might not necessarily evoke feeling from the viewer. For instance, in my earliest endeavors to paint, my subject matter might have been a flower from the garden that struck me as glorious! So, I passionately rendered it on canvas only to find that the work was received with great indifference by viewers. We've all had this experience in one way or another. Or, is Roberts saying that there's no chance for the viewer to find beauty in a work of art if the artist didn't have deep feelings when creating it? If that were true, then his example of Thomas Kinkade fails because the multitudes of people that buy his work have passionate feelings about it, even if Kinkade didn't.
In this chapter, Roberts expands on many of the historical facts and ideas that we've hashed over when hiking through Williams' book, so I won't elaborate here. However, his central point is that the world is awful enough - just look at the evening news. And, technology is impersonal and empty of emotion. And, artists have spent the past 150 years dismanteling the old standards set for fine art by agreement. Therefore, he argues, the contemporary artist must return to the standard of transcendent beauty as a basis for expression. And, he states, beauty comes from giving personal expression to deep currents within us. That perhaps even wrench us in their telling.
So, I agree that the artist produces authenticity by embuing art with personal expression. But, I'm a little perplexed when Roberts lumps the use of modern technology as a medium together with ugliness and emptiness. I've seen some digital photography that evokes strong emotion, and light displays with digital music that induce real feelings. Therefore, I must ask - what's so sacred about the standards that were set 150 years ago? And, were these really universal standards for ALL art? I don't think so. The biggest catalyst for many historical art movements was a reaction against the standardizations in art imposed by the academies. As for beauty ... well, I suppose that's always in the eye of the beholder.
And now... your thoughts, please :)