be not afraid of beauty


Henri Matisse: Red Studio

Henri Matisse: Red Studio

I am a lover of beauty. I’m no philosopher and I can’t define beauty, but like everyone I know, I can spot it – or its absence. It expresses itself in an infinity of guises within the world of the arts, but these days it seems to be shy and requires some effort to be found. Frankly, most of what’s celebrated as “high art” in galleries and texts today leaves me covertly looking for the exits. So I was cheered to read Australian art critic Christopher Allen stating the case for beauty in a review of an exhibition of work by Berlinde de Bruyckere. These are the final paragraphs of his review.

There is a long history in the modernist tradition of assuming the beautiful must be a lie and that ugliness must be evidence of truth. One can understand the origin of this idea in a reaction against ossified academic standards, and simultaneously a revulsion against the hypocrisy of society. The modern world has seen more systematic moral dishonesty than any previous age, from Victorian moralism to political propaganda of all sorts and the manipulations of contemporary commercial culture.

But it is nonetheless a fallacy, like the mistaken assumption that cynicism is more likely to be correct than good faith. We have to reflect that if optimism can sometimes be stupidity, pessimism can often be cowardice. Hope and aspiration, even idealism, can be powerful forces for understanding the world; beauty, when real and not illusory, can be the deepest manifestation of the real. Truth, above all, is profoundly complex, and is never found in the self-indulgence of nihilism.

– Christopher Allen,  The Weekend Australian, 23.06.12

To read the complete review: click here