Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Three places for beauty in representational art

There seem to be three senses in which beauty can be found in a piece of representational art:

  1. The piece represents something as beautiful.

  2. The piece in and of itself is beautiful.

  3. The task of representing is performed beautifully.

One can have any one of the three without the others. For instance, the one-line poem “The kitty was pretty” satisfies 1 but fails 2 and 3. Though, to be precise, I think sense 1 is not a real case of something being beautiful, but only of something being represented as beautiful. The kitty could be ugly and yet described as pretty.

I think 3 is particularly interesting. It opens up the way for works of art that are in themselves not beautiful and that do not represent beauty, but which do a beautiful job of representing their objects (Sartwell says that Picasso’s Guernica may be beautiful; I think my aspect 3 of the beauty of representational art may explain this). Note that “beautiful” here does not merely mean “accurate”, as the case of my one-line poem shows, since that poem may represent the beauty of a cat with perfect accuracy, but there is very little of the beautiful about how it accomplishes this.

No comments: