Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Forgotten Beauty and lost Justice

Forgotten Beauty
I tried something this morning, something that is not advisable to do at work, or with family around, I opened up Google, clicked to 'Images', typed in 'beauty', and clicked search.

The first image returned on the page was of a tattooed African-African, in tribal getup (and frighteningly little of that) with her lips stretched around a 4 or 5 inch plate.

Next is a mock-banal poster for Beauty 'If you're attractive enough on the outside, people will forgive you for being irritating to the core.'.
Third is a barely clothed 'beauty' on turned back bed sheets... and her image is just that - an image - a computer generated image.

After that depressing start, then it hurries up down the sliding slope to some ads for makeup , underwear, then bikini shots, schlock art, a movie review, and then drops off into the various depths of porn.

You might say "Well, what'd you expect? That was foolish!"

Well... I agree it was foolish of me to expect otherwise, what with the state of things we find ourselves in today, but how did that become a situation that IS THE NORM!? How did society become a place where a search for Beauty, no matter the venue, should bring back various instances of social commentary and relativism, product sales, computer generated images, and porn... instead of results that consist of ...

... wait for it...

... Beauty!?

Hello... this is an important point. And if your beliefs or 'education' lead you to some contentless answers such as 'it's just progress', or it's due to industrialization or the oppression of the upper classes, or the lower classes, or any other similar bromide, that should be a cue that you are in the grips of the soul killer stalking the world today.

Here's another another question worth asking, how do we go through an examination of Justice, without an examination of Beauty? And if the connection between the two is not readily apparent to you... why not?

Let me put that this way. What kind of Justice can you expect from a society where the normal expectation of results through a casual search for Beauty, is an intellectual claptrap of assertions about how all things are equally worthy and valuable depending on your perspective or that it is determined by your genes, cash for eye candy, fake people, and the degradation and de-spiritualization and de-intellectualization of beauty which is porn?

Answer me that?

The same answer will be received, the very same answer, by walking yourself through Glaucon's tale of the Ring of Gyges (Plato's Republic, bookII), that if you had a ring that made you invisible so that you could be assured of complete anonymity, of never being identified or caught or the target of praise or retribution, no matter the virtue or vice engaged in, no matter the crime committed - what would you do?

What would be the value of Justice to you? That is a whopper of a question, not often appreciated as people dig into the details of the myth. Equally relevant will be, and perhaps an even more revealing answer to be had by asking, what is, and what is the value, of Art? To you?
Peace and Harmony
Grab any random hard-rapping thug off of the street and walk him through a museum of Fine Art (one of course which actually displays Fine Art in a fine manner and setting), and what do you suppose the effect will be upon our thug?

Or walk our thug-buddy by an open and unwatched cash register, or a cash packed wallet dropped before him on the sidewalk, and what will his reaction likely be?

Tear our thug away from watching Jackass, or Rock of Love, and have him sit through a performance of Oedipus Rex, or Antigone, or Othello, Macbeth, Hamlet or Cato... and what do you suppose will be his reaction?

Ok, try this, walk our thug-buddy up to a busy store counter to order a coffee... how do you suppose he will speak to get a clerks attention? Or, even better, how will he respond when someone accidentally bumps into him, maybe even causing him to spill a few drops?

Will it likely be "Pardon me, are you ok? That didn't splash on you, did it?" or will it more likely be, at best, "Hey asswipe! Watchwhereyouregoing! Youwannamakesomethingofit?! Backoff!"

Shut off his Snoop Dog or Metallica and put on Mozart, and what will he likely be humming afterwards?

Replace his lava lamp with the Pietà by Michelangelo...

where will his eyes come to rest? Will they at all?

If faced with something beautiful, will he know it? Will he respond to it? If something truly beautiful is actually SEEN, how is he likely to respond? Will that response likely be remotely similar to the response elicited by eye catching ads or 'beauties' in pornish poses?

Do you normally associate fine manners, respectful behavior, civility, grace, kindness with someone who grinds and gesticulates to hardcore rap, or metal, or [insert degraded artform here], or with someone who prefers to dress up elegantly and take in a symphony?

One other instance, lets tak the old fashioned image of an idealized gentleman, fresh from the symphony - to try to make it more imaginable, lets put him into the Victorian era -he's strolling home, rounds the corner and walks smack dab into a thug harassing a frightened looking lady. Does our gentleman,

a) avert his gaze and step around the scene (or turn back around the corner)?
b) step between them and say something along the lines of "Sir, I advise you to leave"
c) grin, chuckle earthily and join in on the fun?

You could extend this into considering the manners and responses of Chamberlain and Churchill towards Hitler's Nazi Germany. Or Axis-of-Evil era Bush and engagement-speak Obama towards Ahminijihad in Iran. (Yes Lance, they are all directly comparable, from the position of history being lived, where the outcome is not known, the actions towards Nazi germany in the 1920's-1930's is equivalent to 'open and non-confrontational dialog' being openly proposed (and implicitly practiced over the last few years) towards Iran).

Can anyone seriously look into Justice, without looking into Beauty, and the behavior which follows from an understanding, or misunderstanding, of them? And can anyone seriously examine either, without examining the ideas which form the canvass they are presented upon?

These are the questions which must be at least in mind, whose answers must at least be seen as worth pursuing, whether or not a fully satisfying answer is achieved.

A piece of art, say a sculpture, IS a finely crafted object, conceived and created through the mind, heart and body of the artist, it embodies the fruits of his labors... but are those fruits..., is the expression of Art which that sculpture embodies, VISIBLE, to anyone who looks upon it?

I say ... No.

Just as the beauty of fine manners, though physically displayed, are not visible, to one who has habituated the manners of a barbarian. Or rather, while the Art is perceptually available to all who look upon it, it will actually be perceived only by those who have developed the capability of seeing it. No I'm not going all relativist and subjectivist on you. I'll explain... a little bit here, and more so throughout the next few posts on Justice.

The physical block of carved stone is of course there and visible to the passing eye, but the Art which the artwork embodies requires a certain capacity, a certain amount of knowledge to be not only present, but rightly ordered, within the mind, heart and soul of the viewer, in order for it even to begin to be seen as the Art that it is.

Unless we happened upon a very unexpectedly remarkable sort of random rap/metal thug, our random thug is NOT going to see the Art that is present in the sculpture, painting, music or stage, without having first been educated to, and having developed the ability to recognize them. To a certain extent, the Art must be present in the viewer before it can be seen by them, just as Justice must to some extent be known to the people before it can defined or hold sway among them.

However, we shouldn't put too many chips down when we're betting on the odds that our _thug will be nothing but a thug. A person can awaken to the world around them, without outside efforts. All it takes to awaken the inner eye to perceiving the light above, is the willingness to become aware of what is all around him in every environment, in every place, and in every time. Perhaps the light in a young girls eye, that makes him wish to not only get her attention, but for her to think of him as worthy of her attention.

That, or maybe the realization that it would be desirable to not be the bullying type of person who he saw taking the toy... as well as something else... from his older brother, that maybe there was some way to manage possessions agreeably, to deal with each other agreeably... that would be ... better... in some way... why? And what type of personal mannerisms, behavior, actions, would such a conclusion tend towards?

Here's a hint, this,

or this,


And... what type of Art... or distraction... would likely appeal to which?

There are many roads that lead upwards, and a single path can lift one to the alpine heights, where all the roads begin to merge... but each path has a fork which can also take you right back down again, or even over a precipice.

Which path will you choose? This might help you in navigating the twists and turns, from an essay at the excellent Art Renewal, Good Art, Bad Art:

"The art of painting, one of the greatest traditions in all of human history has been under a merciless and relentless assault for the last one hundred years. I'm referring to the accumulated knowledge of over 2500 hundred years, spanning from Ancient Greece to the early Renaissance and through to the extraordinary pinnacles of artistic achievement seen in the High Renaissance, 17th century Dutch, and the great 19th century Academies of Europe and America. These traditions, just when they were at their absolute zenith, at a peak of achievement, seemingly unbeatable and unstoppable, hit the twentieth century at full stride, and then ... fell off a cliff, and smashed to pieces on the rocks below."

Is it a coincidence that that fall was followed by the most blood soaked series of tyrants and wars the world has ever known? Such a coincidence would require a strong belief in coincidences - I don't buy it - the two are related. Deeply. The article continues:

"Our children, going supposedly to the finest universities in the world, being taught by professors with Bachelors or Arts, Masters of Arts, Masters of Fine Arts, Masters of Art Education ... even Doctoral degrees, our children instead have been subjected to methodical brain-washing and taught to deny the evidence of their own senses. Taught that Mattisse, Cézanne, and Picasso, along with their followers, were the most brilliant artists in all of history. Why? Because they weren't telling us lies like the traditional painters, of course. They weren't trying to make us believe that we were looking at scenes in reality, or at scenes from the imagination, from fantasy or from dreams. They were telling us the truth. They were telling it like it is. They spent their lives and careers on something that was not banal, and not silly, insipid or inane. They in fact provided the world with the most ingenious of all breakthroughs in the history of artistic thought. Even the great scientific achievements of the industrial revolution paled before their brilliant discovery. And what was that discovery for which they have been raised above Bouguereau, exalted over Gérôme, and celebrated beyond Ingres, David, Constable, Fragonard, Van Dyck, and Gainsborough or Poussin? Why in fact were they heralded to the absolute zenith ... the tiptop of human achievement ... being worthy even of placement shoulder to shoulder on pedestals right beside Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Leonardo, Caravaggio, Vermeer and Raphael? What did they do? Why were they glorified practically above all others that ever went before them? Ladies and gentleman, they proved ... amazing, incredible, and fantastic as it may seem, they proved that the canvas was flat ... flat and very thin ... skinny ... indeed, not even shallow, lacking any depth or meaning whatsoever."

Which would you choose as a better representation of Art, of Beauty,
Matisse's Woman in Robe,

John William Godward's Classical Beauty?

Are you balanced enough to bring forth Beauty and Justice, or are you one of those super smart people who allows your highly developed (read unbalanced) intelligence to make stupid and unjust decisions, because of what things you 'think' should be 'art', rather than what you know? I submit that that is exactly the same type of super smart decision, which allows every form of theft from welfare, to bailouts, to stimulous, to slavery-lite issues of income tax, gov't controlled healthcare, and eventually the gulag states of the Nazi's, USSR & Red China.

Which is Art? Which represents Beauty to you? Careful, your answer holds a mirror up to your soul.

*An interesting, if perhaps a tad to0 deterministic, series of articles by Satoshi Kanazawa, 1, 2 and 3, notes that

"They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, which means that different people possess different standards of beauty and that not everyone agrees on who is beautiful and who is not. This is the first stereotype or aphorism that evolutionary psychology has overturned. It turns out that the standards of beauty are not only the same across individuals and cultures, they are also innate. We are born with the notion of who’s beautiful and who’s not."

(Note: You may want to keep his "Large Breasts" as a pinch of salt to weigh against his articles on beauty. Ahem.)