You think I’m crazy, but just wait and see....
I am grateful for Substack — making it possible for me to send out daily thoughts to those who are interested in muse-beauty.
I am grateful for Amazon — making it possible for me to self publish beautiful books that are printed and shipped on demand.
I am grateful for all the builders who have created tools making it possible for me to share my art without keys to a gate or alms for a gatekeeper.
I am grateful for those who make my quiet, little, beautiful rebellions possible.
Beauty is the only thing that can save the world.
We can no longer allow ourselves the luxury of thinking that we can logic our way to utopia.
Many years ago, I spent a day on assignment with Hickey. He lived in a Las Vegas hi-rise; hung out at a seedy strip diner, and carted me around for a visit to local artists. He was the antithesis of an "art critic." I read all of his books and, hopefully, understood some of them. His essay on why art costs so damn much was brilliant and unexpected.
He's gone now--but the shot he called back in the '90s is all around us: the visual arts are now agitprop--the uglier the better. Here in Portland, the art museum is putting on a show limited to only black (capital B) artists...neo-segregation at its most poignant. Is any of it "beautiful?" Who cares: it's the politics, stupid.
Interesting theory, Ted. I agree with most of what you said. I do think there is also more junk around than ever before in all of the arts, as well as more exciting and cutting edge stuff happening everywhere. But the loss of arts education in the schools and the diminishment of enrollment in college music programs is a disaster. Technique, history, theory, ensemble work (in the case of music) still have to be taught from generation to generation. I just prepped the chorus for Mozart's glorious masterpiece the "Great Mass in C Minor," and the audience was about 95% people over 70. Given the vitality of the music and the LIVE communal experience provided, that was extremely disheartening. And in my faculty job I talk to students every day who have NEVER had any kind of arts education (WGU, an online non-profit school) because rural or diverse schools get arts education (and social studies and government) cut before anything else. It's a tragedy.
So good. Best I’ve read in ages and something I’ve had on my mind for a while now. I get the sense people have been sort of frozen in their relationship to the arts and creativity in general for a little while, as if singing and painting and poetry are the exclusive ‘gifts’ of the so called ‘stars’, not permitted for anyone ‘commoner’ to experiment with without the permission of the media establishment!
No! We’ve got to take back our birthright which is to express ourselves and paint and sing and make a noise and see what happens. Enough of this self consciousness. We’re taking back beauty!
Beauty is the subversive counter-culture compared to our demoralized culture. Arthur Kwon Lee and the Genesis Council are bringing beauty and universal truths back into art: https://www.arthurkwonlee.com/
Beauty has more than one definition. It usually refers to a societal, or at least collective, standard, and that standard reflects the societal power structure as to what is pleasing to the eye. This type of beauty has always been a form of currency. It also refers to an individual standard which is completely personal and subjective, though it may have been influenced in one way or another by the prevailing societal standard. This type of beauty has always existed and, as the old saying goes, can not be disputed.
I don't think it is beauty that is dangerous. I think the increasing disconnect between our society's standards and our personal standards is more the problem, but this has been a problem in every era. We can look back at the creativity of the 1960s, but, at the time, that was considered artistically an era of vacuous corporate culture and dull conformism. There was a counterculture, and it had its impact. Now it is institutionalized and can be considered part of the problem.
This gets us something of a contradiction. Do we have a counterculture or not? Is Mr. Beast a harbinger of great new art or a sideshow? How much organization is appropriate for a proper counterculture? What do we do when Bandcamp becomes a multi-billion dollar company with its own style, its own impresarios and serious societal power? Are all those artists still indie artists or have they sold out?
These aren't new questions. Mad Magazine addressed them ages ago:
I agree with our host that something new is being born, and that it threatens our society's conventional structures of beauty. To be honest, I suspect that the dynamic is working on two fronts. There is the roots up creation of new means of consumption, and there is top down pressure in the form of increasing government anti-trust action. I know that latter seems divorced from aesthetic matters, but I think it matters more than many suspect.
As Frank Zappa put it in Packard Goose on Joe’s Garage,
"Information is not knowledge
Knowledge is not wisdom
Wisdom is not truth
Truth is not beauty
Beauty is not love
Love is not music
Music is THE BEST"
“The three qualities I admire in the poetry I like best are: Accuracy, Spontaneity, Mystery.”
This sentence is a well-known quote by Elizabeth Bishop. For me, these three qualities, when they occur all at once in the same work of art, are the definition of beauty. I love the contradictions! How can something that’s spontaneous also be accurate? How can something that’s accurate also be mysterious?
Thank you for this post about Dave Hickey and beauty--two of my favorite subjects!
Truth. Great art does not need to be explained.
For me, gender transition had nothing to do with becoming a woman. Of course, you have to say that for the doctors and folks, but what it was really about was wanting to be part of what I found beautiful. And it was worth it.
"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder" in a sense, yes. But not in the sense that that phrase is usually taken to mean. There are in fact rational patterns we can discover that correlate strongly with human perception of beauty. So "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" cannot be taken to mean that aesthetics are some kind of purely arbitrary, individualist affair. To the contrary, beauty is "programmed into" the "eye" (and therefore, the brain) of the beholder in certain nonarbitrary ways. See, for example, the famous mathematical physicist-turned-architectural critic Nikos Salingaros's work, such as "box counting" algorithms, for more details.
So true Ted. Beauty and soul are words that one does hear often enough. The world needs more of both. The anima mundi is crying out for what you are emphasizing.
1. Is it not written that the difference between High Art and lowbrow art is that mass audiences will not tolerate being bored, while connoisseurs of High Art are willing to be bored for the right cause?
2. I have long thought that, while sales of recorded music have collapsed in dollar terms, there are more possibilities out there than ever before to get one's music out. The traditional gatekeepers, recording studios, record labels and radio play are less and less relevant, now that any jerk with a laptop and wifi can get into the recording business by nightfall.
Just that the hookers-and-blow lifestyle is less and less of a possibility for most musicians.
3. I had never heard of him, but this Hickey individual sounds interesting.
THANK YOU!!!!! I've been a fan of Hickey's writing ever since my first tour of grad school. I'm ready to hear about beauty as a subversive concept again. ✌️✌️🙌🙌
This essay made me immediately think of what Pirsig wrote about quality in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. How it comes before all things. And what happens to institutions that try to box it in (but can’t).