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The Contradictory Nature of our Relation to Beauty in Contemporary Culture
journal contributionposted on 2023-05-16, 21:27 authored by Llewellyn NegrinLlewellyn Negrin
Our current relation to beauty is contradictory. On the one hand, artists, in the wake of the calamitous upheavals of two world wars, have largely abandoned the concern for beauty on the grounds that it represents an escape from, rather than an engagement with, the horrors and injustices of the modem age. At the same time as art has become de-aestheticised, however, there has been a growing aestheticisation of everyday life as manifested in the increasing emphasis on stylisation from the design of urban spaces to the packaging, advertising and display of commodities and the fashioning of personal appearance. I argue that these two trends, though apparently opposed, are in fact interrelated and are symptomatic of a crisis in the aesthetic. Thus, on the one hand, in their renunciation of beauty, artists risk the reduction of art to a sensually impoverished state. While there is certainly a place for art which disturbs or repels the viewer, at the same time, art which embraces the beautiful is not necessarily affirmative of the status quo but can be seen as keeping alive the image of a better world. Conversely, the vacuousness of much of the visual spectacle prevalent in mass culture, where beauty is largely confined to the role of stimulating sensory pleasure and desire at the expense of any deeper meaning, is just as problematic.
Publication titleThe International Journal of the Arts in Society
Department/SchoolSchool of Creative Arts and Media
PublisherCommon Ground Publishing Pty Ltd
Place of publicationMelbourne
Rights statement© Common Ground, Llewellyn Negrin.