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Banishment of Beauty

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Your notion of objectivity, as you described it earlier, was that two people could come to different objective judgments of what was beautiful or ugly, and both could be right. Therefore, the same two people could come to different objective judgments of what was moral, and both could be right, no?

How do you think your notion of objectivity squares with Rand's?

She wrote,

"Epistemologically, it is the recognition of the fact that a perceiver’s (man’s) consciousness must acquire knowledge of reality by certain means (reason) in accordance with certain rules (logic). This means that although reality is immutable and, in any given context, only one answer is true, the truth is not automatically available to a human consciousness..."

How can you hold the position that two people with differing views of what is beautiful can both be right if only "one answer is true"?

J

My response, which is posted earlier in this thread was that two individuals observing an artwork could both agree that it is objectively beautiful, yet they both had different preferences as to what they favor most in a painting. Examples:Paint handling, truths,etc.

I responded:

Having said that example of non contradiction on the subject of perception I will then address an example about the objective relationship between perception, knowledge, and value judgments to judge a painting. Two individuals viewing a painting(representational) can both objectively know that it is created skillfully, and is good, but they may have different views on whether one would like it based on their value judgments. Perhaps one is a painter themselves, and in viewing a landscape painting this observer is interested in the depiction of truths rather than imitation. Having knowledge that can aid them in the volitional act of seeing, after perceiving a painting with truth and one without truth, the artist may prefer the more truthful one. . The observer who is not concerned with the depiction of truths, would find the painting just pleasing the way it is. Or take for instance the application of paint, and the handling of materials, which is secondary to the subject matter. One may prefer a certain look which is only attained through the mastery of technique applied to subject matter. The act of trying to attain beauty without a subject is similar to trying to paint an attribute of an entity without an entity to represent. In order for an observer to enjoy a painting they can only judge it within the context of their own knowledge. There is no contradiction between two observers both seeing a good artwork, but both having

different likes, and one preferring another painting. Each viewer understands that the painting is objectively good.

(bold mine)

Can you point out to me what necessarily makes that picture ugly?

Sure, I'll link several paintings down below. Now each painting stands alone, as it should, but after viewing several paintings an observer can see how the figures are purposefully depicted as mangled,distended,bloodied,deformed... I may be wrong but, are those beautiful to the observer who holds the standard as the ideal of man? I find them to be ugly.

Can you tell me if there is beauty in them? Beautiful to whom? Beautiful to the viewer who understands what the ideal harmony is of the identity of man. The paintings are of human figures. Do you think these paintings of human figures are created to be purposefully beautiful, or ugly?

Pause

Untitled

Witness

Branded

Untitled

Gallery image

For what it's worth, here is an interview where she explains a bit about her paintings:

Jenny Saville Interviewed

Edited by brianleepainter

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My response, which is posted earlier in this thread was that two individuals observing an artwork could both agree that it is objectively beautiful, yet they both had different preferences as to what they favor most in a painting.

I have a very difficult saying what is the ugliness I react to in "Branded." It's not the overweight figure or even folds of skin, what I'm really looking at when I say it's ugly is that the skin seems to have self-inflicted wounds. The figure is disvaluing herself as far as I can see, pinching her skin like she's a piece of meat, no pride whatsoever. That may very well have been Saville's point, though what I'm pointing out is that it appears there are specific things to say makes the painting ugly that are separate from merely an emotional reaction. Still, how do I know I'm not just evaluating my emotional reaction? That's where things get tricky, especially since saying that a painting is beautiful or ugly is a near immediate. A mangled feature, without any context, may be bad for any person and *not* ideal, but I do wonder about overcoming obstacles despite deformities/disabilities actually. Could these mangled features also be beautiful in that context? Or would you say it's a portrayal of what is ugly in a way that is about pursuit of values, thus making it a good and ugly painting? The former point suggests subjectivity of beauty (meaning that beauty is a reaction to what you judge to be objectively good paintings), while the latter suggests objectivity of beauty (meaning that you may well be right that mangled is ugly, but that does not mean the painting is necessarily objectively *bad*).

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A mangled feature, without any context, may be bad for any person and *not* ideal, but I do wonder about overcoming obstacles despite deformities/disabilities actually. Could these mangled features also be beautiful in that context?

You can have good art that is ugly. You can have good art with a terrible message. Good in visual art is a measure of how effectively the message was translated into visual form, regardless of what that message is.

Good art and beautiful art are not the same thing.

Edited by ~Sophia~

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I have a very difficult saying what is the ugliness I react to in "Branded." It's not the overweight figure or even folds of skin, what I'm really looking at when I say it's ugly is that the skin seems to have self-inflicted wounds. The figure is disvaluing herself as far as I can see, pinching her skin like she's a piece of meat, no pride whatsoever. That may very well have been Saville's point, though what I'm pointing out is that it appears there are specific things to say makes the painting ugly that are separate from merely an emotional reaction. Still, how do I know I'm not just evaluating my emotional reaction? That's where things get tricky, especially since saying that a painting is beautiful or ugly is a near immediate. A mangled feature, without any context, may be bad for any person and *not* ideal, but I do wonder about overcoming obstacles despite deformities/disabilities actually. Could these mangled features also be beautiful in that context? Or would you say it's a portrayal of what is ugly in a way that is about pursuit of values, thus making it a good and ugly painting? The former point suggests subjectivity of beauty (meaning that beauty is a reaction to what you judge to be objectively good paintings), while the latter suggests objectivity of beauty (meaning that you may well be right that mangled is ugly, but that does not mean the painting is necessarily objectively *bad*).

Eiuol, I think that a painting should speak for itself, in that the artist should strive to make his value judgments clear to the viewer. I think Clarity is key then.

I was reminded of Victor Hugo's novel, "The Man Who Laughs", when I read your response. In this novel the protagonist named Gwynplaine was purposefully disfigured by a band of "child buyers". Despite his deformity(his face was carved into looking as a permanent grin) he was virtuous and fell in love with and pursued one of his highest values, Dea. I would love to see a painting of these two characters portrayed beautifully. I think the artist could make a beautiful painting by focusing on Gwynplaine's good qualities while still including the important deformity. He would be in the context of his love, Dea, the gorgeous woman and possibly with his other companions such as Homo, the wolf, and Ursus, the philosopher. This painting would require the artist to set out from the beginning with the goal of creating a well done, beautiful painting with the purpose of trying to portray a virtuous individual with his love, Dea.

Back to the painting, "Branded", by Saville. If she had tried to convey a deformity/disfigurement as something that can be overcome, while trying to make the painting beautiful, well then I think

she failed in her attempt. I think she would have needed to portray this idea in the right context. I see the painting, "Branded", as Saville's way to purposefully shock the audience and create ugliness.

edit:spelling

Edited by brianleepainter

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I think that a painting should speak for itself, in that the artist should strive to make his value judgments clear to the viewer. I think Clarity is key then.

Yes.

My judgment of Saville is that she is a very good painter. I don't like the message but it is not unclear.

Thanks for linking to that interview. Here is one of her answers:

EJ: Do you think we live in an ugly world?

JSaville: Oh, fantastical-fantastically ugly. [both laugh] Everything is sort of a fantasy. There's no truth, just a series of lies.

Not surprising at all.

From "Why Art Became Ugly" :

The first major claim of modernism is a content claim: a demand for a recognition of the truth that the world is not beautiful. The world is fractured, decaying, horrifying, depressing, empty, and ultimately unintelligible.
Edited by ~Sophia~

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Since I mentioned Scott Burdick and his presentation, "Banishment of Beauty," for convenience, here are direct links to the four parts of his presentation (about 1 hour total time):

Thank you for posting this presentation. I greatly enjoyed it.

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Good art and beautiful art are not the same thing.

Beauty is what elevates the human spirit. Ugliness is what degrades it. Both can be well executed.

Edited by ~Sophia~

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Back to the painting, "Branded", by Saville. If she had tried to convey a deformity/disfigurement as something that can be overcome, while trying to make the painting beautiful, well then I think she failed in her attempt.

I don't think that her point is "deformity/disfigurement is something that can be overcome," but that treating people as if they are deformed/disfigured because they don't measure up to society's shallow concept of ideal beauty is vicious.

I think she would have needed to portray this idea in the right context. I see the painting, "Branded", as Saville's way to purposefully shock the audience and create ugliness.

I think I might borrow what I see as Saville's themes, and create some paintings with my own spin on them. I think my approach would be to show not the victims, or what it feels like to be a victim, but to show the perpetrators what they and their concepts of beauty look like to me.

J

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My judgment of Saville is that she is a very good painter. I don't like the message but it is not unclear.

I agree that her "message" is clear: society tries to impose superficial standards and judgments on people, and judges them negatively when they don't conform, and Saville's work defies them. Why don't you like that theme? Would you prefer that Saville conform to pop-culture-based opinions and judgments?

Thanks for linking to that interview. Here is one of her answers:

Quote

EJ: Do you think we live in an ugly world?

JSaville: Oh, fantastical-fantastically ugly. [both laugh] Everything is sort of a fantasy. There's no truth, just a series of lies.

I could see Ayn Rand saying the same thing while creating the villains in her novels. I could very easily see her judging society as behaving as if everything is fantasy, and as if there is no truth, but just a series of lies. In fact, except for a few rare people, the worlds recreated in her fiction are inhabited by ugly people who live a series of lies.

Not surprising at all.

From "Why Art Became Ugly" :

Quote

The first major claim of modernism is a content claim: a demand for a recognition of the truth that the world is not beautiful. The world is fractured, decaying, horrifying, depressing, empty, and ultimately unintelligible.

Ah, I see. Apparently you've very literally interpreted Saville's statement. You've somehow taken it as her believing that everything is fantasy, that there is no truth, and there is nothing but lies, as opposed to her judging society as behaving as if everything is fantasy and lies. Wow. Didn't the inclusion of "both laugh" signify anything to you? You seem to have given her a hostile reading. You seem to have gone looking for a statement from her which you could misinterpret negatively.

Hmmm. If someone were to ask me if I thought that there was a subcommunity within the Objectivist movement that was very "Pleasantville," and I responded, "Oh, fantastical-fantastically Pleasantville. [both laugh] Everything is sort of a fantasy of moral pureness and objectivity; there's no actual objectivity, just a series of attempts to objectify subjective responses," would you interpret my statement as supporting Pleasantville, and of being in favor of people trying to objectify their subjective responses?!?!

And I really don't understand why you would have such a negative judgment of Saville's comment even if your interpretation of it were correct. After all, you apparently believe that we live in an ugly world. Your view appears to be that women in their natural state are so ugly that they need to paint themselves as a "corrective measure"!

Beauty is what elevates the human spirit. Ugliness is what degrades it. Both can be well executed.

Then Saville's work is beautiful. It is defiance in the face of superficial judgments. It's the rejection of collectivisic, pop-culture, horny frat-boy concepts of beauty. It's a direct challenge to the masses who mistreat others based on style over substance. Therefore it elevates the human spirit and is beautiful by your stated standards.

J

Edited by Jonathan13

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My response, which is posted earlier in this thread was that two individuals observing an artwork could both agree that it is objectively beautiful, yet they both had different preferences as to what they favor most in a painting. Examples:Paint handling, truths,etc.

But Rand insists that objectivity requires that only one answer is correct, so your 'close-enough' approach doesn't cut it. If I were to apply the same 'close-enough' approach to non-aesthetic matters, would you find it acceptable? I doubt it. For example, if two people agreed that capitalism and a capitalistic mixed economy are both good, and significantly better than the evil of a tyrannical dictatorship, would you agree that they were "both right" when the one preferred pure capitalism and the other preferred just a bit more government? If two people were asked which number was the greatest between 1 and 100, and one answered "100" where the other answered "99," would you say that it was close enough because they both at least agreed that the numbers chosen were the highest two, and they were both right but with "different preferences"?

Sorry, but, no, if beauty is objective by Rand's standards, then there can be only one correct judgment of which of any two things is the most beautiful.

J

Edited by Jonathan13

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Please, enough already. Saville is a trendy non-conformist burping up trite feminist values - showing fat chicks with beards and dicks.

I'll proudly side with the horny frat-boys any day if that's the alternative(which it isn't, art history from ancient Greece til today is full of remarkably beautiful women).

God, how I really hate Saville...

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Please, enough already. Saville is a trendy non-conformist burping up trite feminist values - showing fat chicks with beards and dicks.

I'll proudly side with the horny frat-boys any day if that's the alternative(which it isn't, art history from ancient Greece til today is full of remarkably beautiful women).

God, how I really hate Saville...

Yeah, I get it already that a lot of people's judgments are very emotional, which is why I've been talking about the subjectivity of aesthetic judgments. Personally, I prefer not to be as driven by my emotions. I really value Rand's stressing that one's "sense of life" and other emotional responses are not valid criteria of objective judgment.

J

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Damn right my reaction is emotional. She's the opposite of things I really love. As far as my judgement goes though, I just nailed her. That is trite old feminist social commentary; where beauty, gender and sexuality - hell, everything - is "just a social construct".

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Yeah, I get it already that a lot of people's judgments are very emotional, which is why I've been talking about the subjectivity of aesthetic judgments. Personally, I prefer not to be as driven by my emotions. I really value Rand's stressing that one's "sense of life" and other emotional responses are not valid criteria of objective judgment.

There's a difference between using them as criteria for objective judgment and being driven by them. The fact that they are automatic responses means that we cannot take them as evidence of anything without critically examining the ideas and premises behind them; but if we have emotions that we know, through introspection and rational thought, are justified, we should be driven by them. They should motivate us to action.

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Damn right my reaction is emotional. She's the opposite of things I really love.

She's the opposite of the things you really love? So, am I correct, then, in concluding that you love judging people for superficial reasons, and that you love following the masses and accepting their popular opinions as your standards of value?

That is trite old feminist social commentary; where beauty, gender and sexuality - hell, everything - is "just a social construct".

Is that the feminist view? I haven't gotten the impression that all, or even most, feminists believe that beauty, gender and sexuality (or "hell, everything") in themselves are social constructs, but just that certain people's opinions and tastes on those subjects can be based in social constructs. The backward attitude of "a woman's place is in the home" is a social construct, as is "homosexuality is a form of mental illness," and "there ain't nothin' more to 'gender identity' than whether you gots a penus or a vaginer."

J

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There's a difference between using them as criteria for objective judgment and being driven by them.

No, there is no difference between the two when it comes to aesthetic judgment. Rand's view was that emotions are not a valid criterion of objective aesthetic judgment.

The fact that they are automatic responses means that we cannot take them as evidence of anything without critically examining the ideas and premises behind them; but if we have emotions that we know, through introspection and rational thought, are justified, we should be driven by them. They should motivate us to action.

No matter how rational and justified you believe your emotions to be, they are still not a valid criterion of objective aesthetic judgment according to Objectivism. Rand did not say that only the emotions that you believe (or feel) are unjustified are not a valid criterion of aesthetic judgment, nor did she say that the emotions that you believe (or feel) are firmly based in rational thought via proper introspection are a valid criterion. No, her position was that emotions are not a valid criterion of aesthetic judgment.

And beyond that, even rational moral judgments are not a valid criterion of objective aesthetic judgment according to Objectivism. According to Rand, the act of rationally and justifiably disagreeing with an artist's view of existence, or of an artwork's meaning, "is irrelevant to an esthetic appraisal of his work qua art." One's emotions and one's ethical principles and judgments have nothing to do with aesthetic judgments. "One does not have to agree with an artist (nor even enjoy him) in order to evaluate his work."

J

Edited by Jonathan13

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Kamhi and Torres, from What Art Is: The Esthetic Theory of Ayn Rand, on the views of specific Modernist artists:

"...[Mondrian] claimed that 'the essence of art expresses or evokes our emotion of beauty.' Through his art of 'pure relationships,' he hoped to create a 'moving expression of beauty.'"(137)

"...Mondrian similarly claimed, in an earlier context, that the "fundamental function of art is to express beauty plastically." (394)

"Yet Frankenthaler, too, reveals the widespread 'obsess[ion] with the idea of beauty' when she admits that what concerns her when she paints is not what her 'picture' represents but 'did [she] make a beautiful picture?'" (395)

"...Roger Kimball maintains that, although artists such as Kandinsky, Malevich and Mondrian heavily invested their work with earnest spiritual claims, 'their primary claim on our attention has always been an artistic [esthetic] claim: [w]e care chiefly about the beauty of their art' – and 'beauty remains the touchstone of art.'" (396)

And I reiterate my earlier statement that the focus here on beauty, and the insinuation that the alleged absence of beauty from Modern or Postmodern artworks is somehow negative or goes against the grain of the Objective Esthetics, is mistaken. A work of art need not be beautiful in order to be judged great according to Objectivism.

As Kamhi and Torres note, "That the term fine arts appears nowhere in Rand's essays on art is perhaps significant. Since it is intimately associated with the eighteenth-century's emphasis on the creation of beauty as the principle purpose of art (as indicated by the original French term, beaux arts, 'beautiful arts'), it has misleading connotations." (353)

Rand's view, counter to what some of her fans apparently believe, was not that art was primarily about beauty, but that it was primarily conceptual.

As Kamhi writes in her essay What "Rand's Esthetics" Is (Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, Spring 2003, p. 417), "In emphasizing the essential link between art and cognition, moreover, Rand was decades ahead of contemporary aestheticians. After a century of art's being discussed mainly in terms of "beauty" or "expression," they have only recently begun to recognize this crucial nexus, following the lead of continental philosphers of hermeneutics such as Hans-Georg Gadamer."

So, with the accusations floating around about the "banishment" of beauty, shouldn't the fingers of blame be pointed at Rand rather than at Modernist and Postmodernist artists?

J

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So, with the accusations floating around about the "banishment" of beauty, shouldn't the fingers of blame be pointed at Rand rather than at Modernist and Postmodernist artists?

As literally as certain people have been interpreting things, it occurred to me that there is potential for confusion in my above statement. So, if it wasn't clear to some people, my point was not to support the idea that Rand should be accused of playing a part in the "banishment" of beauty (a "banishment" that I don't agree ever happened), but that those who are focused on their personal expectation that art must contain beauty and avoid ugliness are not advocating the Objectivist position, but are actually inadvertently(?) opposing it, and, due to their ignorance of both art history and of Rand's aesthetics, they are throwing around accusations against Modern and Postmodern artists and theorists which in reality are more applicable to Rand.

Has it not occurred to any of you that an artist can project his vision of how life "ought to be," and what he values, through the aesthetic equivalent of a reductio absurdum -- that he can show what "ought NOT be," and why, and that doing so is just a different version of showing what "ought to be"? Are you forgetting that Rand's We The Living, with its tragic ending, is a study in ugliness and what "ought not be"?

J

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Kandinsky (the father of abstract art), from Concerning the Spiritual in Art:

I value only those artists who really are artists, that is, who, consciously or unconsciously, in an entirely original form, embody the expression of their inner life; who work only for this end and cannot work otherwise.

Painting is an art, and art is not vague production, transitory and isolated, but a power which must be directed toward the improvement and refinement of the human soul.

It is very important for the artist to gauge his position aright, to realize that he has a duty to his art and to himself, that he is not king of the castle but rather a servant of a nobler purpose. He must search deeply into his own soul, develop and tend it, so that his art has something to clothe, and does not remain a glove without a hand.

The artist must have something to say, for mastery over form is not his goal but rather adapting of form to its inner meaning.

If the artist be priest of beauty, nevertheless this beauty is to be sought only according to the principle of the inner need, and can be measured only according to the size and intensity of that need.

That is beautiful which is produced by the inner need, which springs from the soul.

Edited by Jonathan13

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She's the opposite of the things you really love? So, am I correct, then, in concluding that you love judging people for superficial reasons, and that you love following the masses and accepting their popular opinions as your standards of value?

No.

Is that the feminist view? I haven't gotten the impression that all, or even most, feminists believe that beauty, gender and sexuality (or "hell, everything") in themselves are social constructs, but just that certain people's opinions and tastes on those subjects can be based in social constructs. The backward attitude of "a woman's place is in the home" is a social construct, as is "homosexuality is a form of mental illness," and "there ain't nothin' more to 'gender identity' than whether you gots a penus or a vaginer."

J

Ah, yes. Avoid any objectivity by attacking our perception of things by reffering to how society has fooled us, and then try to sell us your own twisted form of reality. You might be right, perhaps I didn't give them credit for being as marxist as they really are.

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Ah, yes. Avoid any objectivity by attacking our perception of things by reffering to how society has fooled us, and then try to sell us your own twisted form of reality.

I'm not avoiding objectivity. I've been approaching the subject of beauty very objectively by recognizing that until objective criteria for judging beauty are discovered and clearly identified, judgments of beauty must be treated as a subjective matter, just as Rand was being objective in recognizing that until objective criteria for judging music are discovered and clearly identified, judgments of music must be treated as a subjective matter. And I'm also being objective in identifying the fact that it is very common for people to be influenced by popular opinion, and to accept others' ideas, standards and tastes without really thinking about them.

The fact that I don't accept people's unsupported assertions that their subjective judgments are objective is not to "attack" their "perception of things" or to sell them a "twisted form of reality." I'm simply not accepting their attempts to cheapen objectivity by diluting it with their subjectivity.

You might be right, perhaps I didn't give them credit for being as marxist as they really are.

Most of the feminists I've met are not Marxists. But, anyway, the fact that many feminist probably are Marxists has nothing to do with whether or not they are right about people being influenced by popular cultural attitudes. Is it your position that every human being on the planet is an independent-minded individualist who makes up his or her own mind on every subject and is in no way influenced by what is popular?

J

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