Comment on Anne Wareham’s article on beauty and gardens
I’ve been pondering your question of ‘beauty’ since you wrote two weeks ago. Various thoughts come to mind, and whirl around and make shapes that are far from conclusive. But I shall spill them out and see where they might lead.
Of one thing I am sure. There is no objective value of beauty. Our ancestors in the middle ages, toiling on the land, probably had no concept that the landscape was beautiful. Not everyone now shares the idea either. It often strikes me how we go to the coast and wallow in the sheer beauty of it – only to discover that the local people are indifferent to it. I know people in Devon who live a mile from the sea who never bother to go there. Even our concept of human beauty changes with the fashion of every different generation. Think Willendorf, Rubens, Norman Parkinson. Contrast and compare.
I think that we began to consider that nature and landscape are beautiful when we started to lose them. I am aware that for me, taking photographs of things is subliminally an attempt to preserve them – just as I used to collect butterflies when I was a small boy. Plants and gardens and landscapes and human beings have an ephemeral beauty and a motivation for ‘art’ is sometimes to hang onto things that would otherwise decline and disappear.
We have to think why it was valid for Monet to make an Impressionist painting in 1880 and it is no longer valid now. An Impressionist painting that is made now is correctly seen as a pastiche – although the ‘beautiful’ subject-matter may be unchanged and still around us. (I saw Monet’s view of the Palace of Westminster only yesterday – just the same, just as beautiful, but to make a valid statement about it now would require different means.)
A work of art needs to be true to its time – and that time encapsulates the art that has gone before. This implies the idea of ‘progression’ so that art moves forwards and upwards in constantly developing stages – this is so obviously not the case that we have to ponder what went wrong. Perhaps it is more like a wave motion – composed of peaks and troughs, but still constantly moving forwards. In any case I am sure that every generation needs to embrace the ‘new’ even if the next generation rejects it as mere novelty.
Sorry, have to stop now. But could go on.
Andrew Lawson’s website