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This ain’t no beauty pageant!

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Ok, well apparently it kind of is a beauty pageant on ARTERI at the moment (minus the swimsuits). Watch out for Part 2 of the most important art world poll ever (forget Art Review’s Power List) And we are also loving  declarations of pure indulgent arty love and since its Vally Day soon it feels like the planets are in alignment for my next editorial musings on….Beauty.

I was in Bangkok last weekend (again) and talking to an artist friend about an experience he was having with a gallery about a show. Said gallery was being an insensitive unprofessional pain, ignoring his requirements (both logistical and conceptual) and so he told them ‘You know what… this isn’t a beauty pageant ok?’ Genius. So this started me thinking about beauty. Should art be beautiful anymore? Does it need to be beautiful? Or is beauty in art a guilty pleasure limited to how we decorate our homes or those special moments  when we discover our favourite works? FYI my favourite painting in the world is this , something I saw at the National Gallery in Washington DC, where I would go for my lunch break when I was interning at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. I would go to the Gallery  just to stare at this work simply because I think its beautiful. Its a sweet sentimental piece and I am not ashamed to say I love it. But I don’t want to be clever about why, I just do and that’s that.

Image from here

Beauty can be a dirty word in some smarty arty circles, because beauty is in the eye of the beholder which means it is subjective, and something associated with emotion. Instinctive, individual (pheromonal) emotions. And so beauty becomes a  form of indulgence, rather than a necessary component for Art. Being purely beautiful seems superficial. It’s not as smart as say reading Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation and then looking at a work of art and feeling very clever because you are thinking about it within a theoretical framework. This process of analysis then reduces the image  to a series of semiotic signifiers rather than being a sublime and important thing in itself  unless it is very arresting in some way or another to disturb your brain from thinking to much. And if there are conventional components of ‘beauty’ in a work of art whatever that may be (nature, women, colour, flowers, lots of painterly marks) then in order for it to be post modern, or contemporary it has be be self reflective about it, to be somehow aware/cynical and  able to problematise notions around beauty. Language therefore is important in validating beauty, we have to be able to talk/ read/ write about it to appreciate the importance of the image. And its definitely a Western sense of language made up of dense, at times non sensical, bodies of text that uses words like semiotics… Academic/social anxiety (the obsessive need to classify and write about everything, to abstract the real/simple and transform it into something, very very complicated) has meant we are not allowed to simply experience, we have to be reflective at the same time.

Can’t we just enjoy artwork without thinking too hard about it? And if we do, are we able to intellectually validate it even though its not conceptual/intellectual? Is this kind of work important, and why? Or is it ok to be beautiful and superficial? I do like work because its fun, or visually striking to me, but I wonder what is the role of beauty in contemporary art in KL, in painting, sculpture, photography, new media, and more? There are certainly a lot of beautiful images, but is this great art or pretty pictures? Let us know and send us links of your own favourite artworks too ya? 🙂

*Photo source from here.


This article was first posted on the original Arteri site on 1 February 2010.

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