The Beautiful and the Sublime

Here’s a YouTuber’s take:

The argument is that beautiful and sublime are central to art. They could almost be called the yin and yang of aesthetics, but they’re not entirely opposite to each other. Delight and Awe are not mutually exclusive.

One could make an argument, however, that Low Art seeks delight (beautiful), while High Art, awe (sublime), but that could be a case of stretching the heuristic.

On Aesthetics

I was inspired by my earlier post to think about aesthetics – the philosophy of art, beauty, etc.  And I did a brief perusal of the related article on the topic on Infogalactic and discovered something:

  • In ancient and medieval world, specific things were called out as being beautiful: order, form, harmony, unity, etc. This was a means of defining beauty.
  • Starting in the Early Modern period (17th-19th centuries), the conversation changed to be about “aesthetic experiences”, wedding aesthetics to rationality and science.
  • Then in the 20th century, two things happen:
    • First, we throw away the artist/author because of the “intentional fallacy”, and center our understanding of a work solely on our individuated responses to it.
    • Second, the Po-Mo’s throw away the idea of beauty itself, and everything becomes about discourses and narratives to be endlessly invoked and endlessly deconstructed

So we move from a set of idea that are clear, evocative, and can be used by a mason to build a temple, to a set of ideas that are esoteric, tendentious, and can only be used by academics to write essays. The nerds have taken over.

71ArtInutile-s
“Art is Useless. Go home.”

Some Books to Check Out

Since I mentioned it the other day, you can pick up a copy of Burke’s A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful on Kindle for 99 cents.

It looks, based on the sample, to be properly formatted, too.

Additionally, the micro-press whose podcast I’ve been following, Dead Rabbit Books, has launched their first title, Emerald City by founder Brian Birnbaum. It’s something of a social novel and something of a thriller.

Just in case you’ve got nothing to read on a Tuesday.

Originality is not Art.

All aesthetic positions are going to offend someone, because concepts of the beautiful are perpetually wrapped up in concepts of the true, and that makes sense in poets’ vomitings but not as an ontological baseline. Whether the beautiful and the true are connected in some way doesn’t really help us to define the beautiful.

The philosophy of aesthetics suffer in a different way from the post-modern inversion. A long time ago Edmund Burke took a shot at defining The Beautiful and The Sublime, and it’s so 18th century you could powder your wig with it. Make an art student read it today and she won’t be able to get past it. Feminism owns the dialogue on what’s considered beautiful, because women have historically been far more concerned with beauty, and all women today feel obligated to at least nod to feminism lest they be accused of harboring the desire to surrender their franchise or some such nonsense. And Feminists regard beauty as a conspiracy against women, because… reasons.

On top of that, the idea of objective aesthetics sounds to many people like “objective enjoyment” and enjoyment is an emotional response to something. You enjoy something. You cannot make yourself enjoy something that you do not, in fact, enjoy. The Star Wars prequels and David Lynch’s Dune are my personal evidence to that.

So aesthetics has to appeal to presuppositions about what people like. If you like horror and your wife doesn’t, then no objective statement about the aesthetic value of say, The Shining, is going to be possible between you. She might agree that, on the whole, The Shining is a better movie that Bye Bye Man, but she doesn’t enjoy either, so she doesn’t care.

Where am I going with this?

I’m aiming at the reality that art of any form needs to be some kind of communication. There has to be something that The Shining is communicating, even if it’s something as simple as dread, mystery, and heart palpitations. So the first judgement of a piece of art is how well in accomplishes its intent (here the po-mo’s shriek that intent isn’t real and there aren’t any authors, because po-mo’s are nerds who think inverting things is valuable and clever). What does it want to convey to its audience? Did it do so successfully?

The second judgement would be the relative value of its intent. This must be judged on a gradient. What Animal House communicates and what Citizen Kane communicates are vastly different, and what the latter communicates is grander in scope, so it gets taken more seriously. That doesn’t mean Animal House has no aesthetic value, or that you shouldn’t watch it (I’m not bringing in any moral objections here. That’s beyond the scope), just that it’s ambitions are obviously more modest.

But in order to say something succesfully, you must find an audience that can hear it. I may have a very clear idea of what I mean when I say “wickle-bickle-num-bum-jarf-jarf-jarf,” but that doesn’t mean anything to anyone else, so I’m failing in communication. So originality isn’t always a bonus to art. You want to be unique, because you want to be heard as you, but originality gets in the way of communication as often as not. If Citizen Kane were a shade weirder, it would not have worked as well, and it would not be as successful a piece of art, by any standard.

Art can be original. They’re not synonyms.

Rejection is Progress

Every no gets you closer to yes.

This is part of the process of shifting through to find the best match. If your work is good, it will find a market.

These are things authors have learned to tell themselves. Not because they are true, but because they are hopeful, and hope is a necessity to keep someone going in the face of rejection. Successful authors need to survive repeated rejection. So whatever you have to tell yourself is fine.

The real possibility of real failure also exists. No doesn’t actually get you closer to yes. It’s not a map. Yes can occur on any submission, from the first to the hundredth, or not at all. And good work is not a guarantee of anything, because “good” is an ambiguous term. It means different things to different groups. It can denote true, beautiful, or useful (and no, they aren’t the same thing). Something can succeed in being one of these and fail in the other two. Or it can fail in all three.

My point is that art can fail, and that an artist that attaches himself permanently to failed art will fail in a more complete way.

You wrote a book. Good. Now write another.