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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in sanctity

Posted by on in Paths Blogs
The Sanctity of Beauty

Spirit of Beauty, that doth consecrate
With thine own hues all thou dost shine upon
Of human thought or form, - where art thou gone?

- Percy Bysshe Shelley



When we awaken to the call of beauty, we become aware of new ways of being in the world. We were created to be creators. At its deepest heart, creativity is meant to serve and evoke beauty. When this desire and capacity come alive, new wells spring up in parched ground; difficulty becomes invitation and rather than striving against the grain of our nature, we fall into rhythm with its deepest urgency and passion. The time is now ripe for beauty to surprise and liberate us.

- John O’Donohue, Beauty: The Invisible Embrace



Why is everything so ugly now? So much music, “art”, architecture and popular culture is now seemingly purposely being as ugly and grotesque as possible. Aesthetic seems to have been assassinated, not only in this new century but especially in this decade. I recently read it referred to as “aesthetic terrorism”, and that is a very apt term. People used to want to be as beautiful as possible, they wanted their homes and clothes and cars and everything to be beautiful. Now people seem to be trying to make things as ugly and cold and empty as they possibly can.

So much modern “art” (already hard pressed to be called art in my opinion) has taken an even sicklier turn and apparently now the most random, huge, rough block of stone can be considered art. A salt and pepper shaker filled with water are displayed in a case at a nearby museum and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. We have gone from the Birth of Venus and Michelangelo’s David to salt and pepper shakers filled with water, something that shouldn’t exist anywhere outside of a diner dishwasher. Art is now even a target for climate protesters who think they’re making some kind of righteous statement.

But art, the beautiful, the aesthetic, is all sacred. It is what we should strive for, not self-mutilation or purposeful destruction or “uglification”. How are we to bear this life, the human condition, without beauty? Many will say that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, but that platitude only goes so far. There will always be a majority consensus and if something drifts too far down an extreme spectrum, there will be but few beholders who will really see any beauty, or they will pretend to in a case of the emperor’s new clothes. We have a distinct pandemic of this in our society.

If you are unfamiliar with the Brothers’ Grimm tale of the Emperor’s New Clothes, here it is.

Once upon a time, there was a wealthy king who was so proud of his appearance and his clothes that he spent all his time changing outfits and gazing in the mirror. One day, two clever swindlers came along, claiming to be tailors and promising him the finest clothes in the kingdom. But these clothes had magic powers, and were invisible to anyone unfit for their position or "hopelessly stupid."

The king
wanted not only the finest clothes he could get, but this would make it very easy to see who in his court didn’t deserve to be there! He paid them a great deal of money, and they pretended to make him the clothes. But there was no thread on their looms. They made a grand show of measuring, cutting, and stitching invisible fabric and fitting the emperor in front of his grand mirror.

The king was troubled that he couldn’t see any clothes! “Surely I am not hopeless
ly stupid! Surely I am not unfit to be king!” he thought. So he nodded and beamed at the “tailors”, playing along and saying how very beautiful the embroidered fabric was.

When the king paraded around in his new "clothes," everyone pretended to see them, praising their beauty, for they were all terrified of being dismissed or being seen for the cretins they were. All except for a little child who spoke up and said, "But he isn't wearing anything at all!"
Slowly the others had to agree, and one-by-one they stood up and bravely declared, “He isn’t wearing anything! He’s completely naked!”

And the proud king could only rush back into his palace and hide himself in shame, the clever swindlers and his money long gone.


So now people see the rich and famous, the spectacles, the flamboyant, the insecure over-compensators, the exhibitionists, the pop stars, the actors at the Met Gala, contestants on Eurovision, and they praise and admire, and usually they know not even what.

Most artists and performers have become little more than shock jockeys, seeing how far they can go, how ridiculous they can look, how much attention they can get. People, particularly the rich and famous, have always wanted attention but now, it’s not being done with beauty, like it used to be. It’s done with ugliness. Ugliness of all kinds and on all levels. Ugliness that so many people can’t even see because they have been so brainwashed and are so afraid of “not fitting in” or “not being liked”.

This ugliness is a manifestation of what is festering inside our society and in each of us. Art is often a reflection of the contemporary world and ours is, face it, pretty damn ugly these days. So while artists have choices, perhaps it is not that much of a surprise that so much art is so downright ugly now. And so many artists and others
still try to have the intellectual debate, “What is art? What makes art? Does art have to be beautiful? Can anything be art?” I can answer that last one at least. No, not anything can be art and not anything should be called art.

But art and aesthetic will not improve until people improve. It is a reflection of us, what we are creating is a reflection of who we are. And apparently most of us
these days are very ugly, very confused, very angry and hateful and very disconnected. Art imitates life, but life, in turn, also imitates art. This cycle needs to be one of beauty, but now it is not.

In a sense, all the contemporary crises can be reduced to a crisis about the nature of beauty….Perhaps, for the first time, we gain a clear view of how much ugliness we endure and allow. The media generate relentless images of mediocrity and ugliness in talk-shows, tapestries of smothered language and frenetic gratification. The media are becoming the global mirror and these shows tend to enshrine the ugly as the normal standard

- John O’Donohue,
Beauty: The Invisible Embrace


A
n excellent example of a mind-boggling piece of modern art is the new official portrait of King Charles III, in which only his face and hands are very clear and the whole piece is absolutely bathed in a torrent of strange red. Just red, all over. I don’t get the impression that this artist likes or respects Charles, yet somehow this is the piece that got commissioned and approved. I don’t know why. I can’t fathom it. But it’s almost like a visual “Freudian slip”; perhaps the desire by many for him to be “consumed by hellfire”, as some have described the look of the portrait, resulted in an accidental depiction of exactly that.
Particularly in a place, a palace in London, that is usually dripping in aesthetic, this new “art” is glaringly off brand.

But, again, perhaps this is very in step with our time. Hopefully the inevitability of ongoing change will bring us full circle and back to true beauty. Hopefully our continued moves toward entropy will birth a new and much better cycle. We must keep creating and we must keep aspiring to great heights, not new and dismal lows. Our well-being and our very survival depend on it.

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