I wrote the following text as my introduction in a debate at the Crunch Festival in Hay titled “Ugly is over, Beauty is back?”
If we are to assume that beauty is a set of determinable rules and a hierarchical system of value, then it is a boring, insanely dated and dangerous redundancy. However, I believe that as subtle-minded and intricately sensitive, inventive beings, we can develop our senses and our ideas of beauty in ways that deepen our connection to life and love.
Ultimately I believe that beauty defies absolute definition. In one sense every concrete stance maintained on beauty is a small death for possibility. By singularly and firmly defining it, we deny the potential for beauty to exist elsewhere. This is limiting and creates unnecessary suffering. At the same time powerful art, which could be seen as semi-finite definitions of or perhaps negotiations with beauty, still allows us to create complex conscious connections with it. I see Art-works as temporarily context-specific metaphors of increasingly abstract, yet ever-present ideas on beauty. When powerful, these seductive, polymorphous and timely definitions of beauty provide subjects with a small death of their own. This time, less a death to possibility, but a petit-morte that in its (R)omantic and cathartic intensity, ejects the subject from the ordinary world, revealing a spectrum of experience that suggests; beauty yearns for infinity.
I would argue that any sincere attempt to remove beauty from the equation does little more than reinvent it. Minimalism early attempt to delete aesthetics from the artistic spectrum resulted in one of the most successful visual and aesthetic languages of the 20th century. The rampant success of furniture giant IKEA provides evidence of this.
Ideas embody metaphysical beauty, just as a person or painting can be physically beautiful. Even pure ‘Concept’ art does not escape beauty’s complexities. The earnest attempt to transcend shallowness in art, in this case via the removal of beauty, can surely be considered in its depth, a beautiful act and intention in itself.
So beauty did not go away! Whilst certain art, artists and thinkers sought to avoid, apologise and deny beauty’s existence, their art can still be considered beautiful within an expanded definition, which they helped to advance. By creating art that placed what had traditionally been defined as ugly at the fore, they expanded what might be considered beautiful. Their noble task, part political and part aesthetic, was part of beauty’s abstract and complex (r)evolution. There is now space to calmly acknowledge the new ideas of beauty that have emerged from the declaration of its ultimate death.
If beauty is unavoidable, as I feel it is, it should be taken on and developed with thought and sensitivity. If anything can now be considered beautiful. That means that the morality of beauty is not inside it, but in how we process the experience of it, develop ideas surrounding it and ultimately where we choose to perceive it. Beauty is like love, dangerous but not to be avoided! It has great power that can easily be used to harm oneself and others and like any other aspect of humanity, the pursuit of beauty has been abused and manipulated for material gain. But, beauty is not simply a false invention tacked onto a primordially beauty-free world by soulless marketeers. It is a gateway to limitless possibility.
So I maintain that rather than asserting that nothing is beautiful, we invoke a period of time to explore the idea that perhaps everything is. One antithesis of the beauty I seek, is a concept of beauty that must be conformed to. For this reason, we can see and use beauty as a human developmental tool that is related to understanding freedom. I intend the statement “everything can be beautiful”, to be part of a dialogue that seeks the freedom to love unconditionally.