How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically
Free E-Course Lesson 9
Chapter 3: Art, Poetry, and Beauty
Part 2: What Is Beauty, and Is It Optional?
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Many will object to the word beauty in any definition of art. I doubt if most people seeing a Picasso cubist work for the first time are struck by its beauty. Many artists paint or dance or compose primarily to demonstrate the breadth and depth of their talent, or to innovate, or to shock people out of their complacency, or to reflect what they perceive as “reality.”
I read this anonymous posting to an artist’s blog: “Art is an attempt to objectify the world as the person sees or knows it” (http://www.artnewsblog.com/2005/10/crazy-paris-art-work.htm).
I submit that “the world as the person sees or knows it” is not very different from “the person as she sees or knows herself.” I think that to improve or beautify the world, or oneself, is more worthwhile than to “objectify” it.
And I believe that art works both ways. It is not just something that the artist imposes on the medium. Creating the work is part of the perpetual creation of the artist. And the artist can choose the path of that creation: toward life, energy, beauty, love… or not.
Intellectually, we may try to justify the layering on of ugliness and chaos. Intuitively, in everyday speech, we equate beauty with art. We hear the phrase “poetry in motion” used to describe someone who moves gracefully. A person whose voice is charmingly melodic is said to “speak musically.”
You have ordered a custom-made chest of drawers from a skilled woodworker. When you see the finished piece, it takes your breath away. The grain of the oak, the craftsmanship, the carving, the proportions — all are lovely and elegant. “Do you like it?” the woodworker asks anxiously. “Do I like it?” you echo. “It’s a work of art.”
Beauty is in the eye of the baby
If we agree to create and evolve beautifully, can we agree about what constitutes beauty? There is too much variation in cultural programming and personal history for beauty to be recognized universally. On the other hand, humans do seem to share a core aesthetic sensibility. (If this were not true, there would be no supermodels or movie stars.) Visually, we find characteristics such as luminosity, color, and symmetry to be aesthetically pleasing.
Numerous studies have investigated the way adults and infants react to sounds, sights, and scents. Researchers at the University of Texas and elsewhere have found that babies look longer at people who are generally considered beautiful, regardless of ethnicity (Langlois Social Development Lab, the University of Texas at Austin, 2006. Cited from this page on the Langlois Social Development Lab website).
In any case, inasmuch as we will never agree completely about what characterizes a chair or an ocelot, how can we expect to reach a common understanding about beauty? When I say “chair,” an image of a chair pops into your mind. It might be an upholstered chair, a desk chair, or a captain’s chair. In my case, the word chair invariably brings to mind my father’s Morris chair.
So I think that we will not turn ourselves inside out trying to define beauty in a precise way. Let us agree, for purposes of our current endeavor, that something is beautiful if it stimulates the best within us… if it makes us feel peaceful, inspired, loving, or joyous… and especially if it arouses our own creativity.
Lesson 9.1: Assignment
Examples of Beauty
Please submit your assignment via e-mail to Mary@LifeIsPoetry.net. Assignments will not be graded but will be returned to you with comments.