Beauty is truth, truth beauty?

In working on Earth Now, I’ve had conversations with many people about the role of beauty, especially in the context of photographs that raise questions about American land use, energy choices, and human disconnection from the environment.  It’s not necessarily pretty! We’d like to bring that discussion onto the website and invite you to comment at the bottom of this page.

The young John Keats began his epic poem “Endymion” (1818) with the words, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.”  Most photographers consider beauty an important tool for communication. An ugly or badly composed photograph is ineffective because few people want to look at it. How, then, can an artist make a picture of suffering, war, or disaster that is truthful and powerful but also attractive enough to encourage sustained attention? Later in Keats’s poem about love (which I am quoting wildly out of context), he wrote, “Pleasure is oft a visitant; but pain clings cruelly to us.” All of us have turned away, at some point, from images of worthy subjects that are painful to confront. But we also know that ignoring unpleasant situations seldom makes them disappear. During World War II, photographers working in the landscape were criticized for taking pictures of mountains instead of documenting human distress. Ansel Adams countered that beauty and the enduring qualities of nature were indispensible in a time of human atrocity. 

Talk to me! I know you have an opinion!


Ellen Rennard
Posts: 14
Reply #11 on : Sun March 27, 2011, 10:18:41
I've always gravitated toward the Dineh (Navajo) idea of beauty, or "hózhó." Author Gary Witherspoon explains "hózhó" as the expression of "the intellectual notion of order, the emotional state of happiness, the physical state of health, the moral condition of good, and the aesthetic dimension of harmony."

He goes on to say: "The Navajo do not look for beauty; they normally find themselves engulfed in it. When it is disrupted, they restore it; when it is lost or diminished, they renew it; when it is present, they celebrate it...The Navajo express and celebrate this "beauty" in speech and prayer, in song and dance, in myth and ritual, and in their daily lives and activities, as well as in their graphic arts. Art, therefore, is not divorced from subsistence, science, philosophy, or theology, but is an integral part of both common activities and cosmic schemes."

p.s. For music, you might look at Winds of Warning, didgeridoo music by Adam Plack and Johnny (White Ant) Soames, unless you're wedded to Western music only.
Katherine Ware
Posts: 14
Dazzle Gradually
Reply #10 on : Thu March 10, 2011, 17:14:29
I am still hung up on Denny's quotation from Emily Dickinson:
"The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind -- "
Do you think we can handle that level of subtlety any more? Or do we need an anvil dropped on our heads? Most of the contemporary work in the show is relatively oblique and ambiguous, so either the anvil approach is out of fashion or it is thought not to work. That's what got me interested in doing the show, wondering what these artists were doing if they weren't idealizing or doomsaying or prescribing. There seems to be a level of faith that people will look and consider that is not necessarily borne out by studies of the viewing habits of museumgoers.
Brad Temkin
Posts: 14
If Art is beauty, and beauty is skin deep, is art skin deep?
Reply #9 on : Mon March 07, 2011, 20:18:19
As an artist, we all try to articulate the notion of beauty, and I think we fight it because we are afraid to reduce something so important to us as something so insignificant.
When once asked to define "What is Art"? by one of my professors. I told him I thought Art was beauty. His reply as the "devil's advocate" was that beauty is skin deep. Therefore, art is also skin deep.
After romantically arguing my case, and loosing I thought about this concept for a long time and continue to think about this in my work. I found a quote by William Blake that best describes for me the answer to this ongoing question.
"Art can never exist without naked beauty displayed".
Zoe Strauss
Posts: 14
Re: Beauty is Truth...
Reply #8 on : Thu March 03, 2011, 13:56:19
“Truth is a thing immortal and perpetual, and it gives to us a beauty that fades not away in time”
-Frank Norris
Sonja Thomsen
Posts: 14
beauty is the entrance...
Reply #7 on : Thu March 03, 2011, 11:40:32
Beauty can seduce. Seduction is a means to carry the content in my piece “petroleum,” included in this exhibition. The assembled grid of 12 panels form a wall of “black gold,” with its glistening finish, the piece becomes an oversized mirror reflecting the viewer’s image. The allure of the piece mirrors our own appetite for oil. Beauty is the entrance.
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