Sunday, May 2, 2010

OPINION: Beauty in Art

Frequent contributor Theo Hoppe had raised the question of Beauty in Art, a big topic! If you have something to say about this question that you'd like to submit for publication, send your thoughts to one of the editors -- email addresses in the right-hand column.

By Theodore Hoppe

The recent April snowfall gave me an excuse to take a break from my computer, so I picked up my camera and headed outdoors to explore the contrast in seasons. Someone once explained the artistic process to me this way: An artist has a fantasy, and then tries to create a reality that will allow the viewer to share the fantasy. Often, and perhaps in most cases, the fantasy we are chasing is Beauty.

Back at my computer, I was doing some research about a psychology topic and I came across these comments by Chris McManus. They seem to capture of essence of what I was searching for with my camera.

It is from the British Psychological Society, Research Digest, 10/5/09:

What is this thing I call beauty? Not "art" as a social phenomenon based on status or display, or beautiful faces seen merely as biological fitness markers. Rather, the sheer, drawing-in-of-breath beauty of a Handel aria, a Rothko painting, TS Eliot’s poems, or those everyday moments of sun shining through wet, autumn leaves, or even a Powerpoint layout seeming just right. Content itself doesn’t matter – Cezanne’s paintings of apples are not beautiful because one likes apples, and there are beautiful photographs of horrible things. Somewhere there must be something formal, structural, compositional, involving the arrangement of light and shade, of sounds, of words best ordered to say old ideas in new ways. When I see beauty I know it, and others must also see it, or they wouldn’t make the paintings I like or have them hung in galleries. But why then doesn’t everyone see it in the same way?
Chris McManus is Professor of Psychology and Medical Education at UCL. His 2002 book Right Hand, Left Hand won the Wellcome Trust Book Prize, the Aventis Prize for popular science writing, and was a finalist for the Descartes Prize in 2004.