tue 26/01/2021

What Is Beauty?, BBC Two | reviews, news & interviews

What Is Beauty?, BBC Two

What Is Beauty?, BBC Two

Matthew Collings dissects beauty only to find the process provides the answer

As questions go, "What is beauty?" is quite possibly only second to "What do women want?" in the frequency of its asking and in the difficulty of its answer. As the first programme in BBC Two and BBC Four’s Modern Beauty season, What Is Beauty? features Matthew Collings skirting around the edges of an answer and in doing so inadvertently hitting upon one.

As questions go, "What is beauty?" is quite possibly only second to "What do women want?" in the frequency of its asking and in the difficulty of its answer. As the first programme in BBC Two and BBC Four’s Modern Beauty season, What Is Beauty? features Matthew Collings skirting around the edges of an answer and in doing so inadvertently hitting upon one.

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I missed the start of the programme, does anyone have a list of theten patrs of this discussion.

I agree with the majority of the the criticism in this article, especially in regards to the programme's lack of examination of the emotional, mental and psychological implications of the art it selected. I also feel that it failed to address perhaps THE most influential factor influencing the production (and suppression) of art throughout the ages and that is "power" and it's influence on beauty. Almost all of the art that he exemplified in the programme either defied or reflected the institutional powers in influence at the time. And lets face it, it was also a white man's examination of beauty in art, as he either failed to acknowledge or handwaved the racism and misogyny in many of the art pieces he chose. I esteem many pieces of the art that were documented in this programme, but to examine many of them outside of their political, historical context and their wider impact on society is lazy and unintelligent and teaches us nothing.

What does it matter what I pretend to know of J Pollock's relationship to patterns? What matters is the intensity of the relationship I have with the Pollock painting, which will be based on the aims of the age in which I live, rather than the aims of P's age (JP says in a radio interview that his art expresses "the aims of the age.") This intensity will come partly from me and partly from the work I'm looking at. I can only draw on what I have experienced -- that is, what I have seen and what I have read. This article, with irs perfumed bullshit about emotion, is all about a sort of pretend intensity that the writer has, connected to a lot of fake ideas the writer thinks will make him seem important. Good luck anyway though, and thanks for watching.

Of course, Hogarth tried to tackle this very question in his "Analysis of Beauty", but mainly succeeded in pointing out the mechanics of Baroque beauty; Yet more "incidents" in true Socratic style. There were, of course, references to nature and natural A-symetry but the modern mind appears to find perfect symetry equally beautiful, so this is obviously not the whole answer. The older I get, the more I tend to believe that there's an evolutionary answer to almost everything we do, say or feel. In this case too, the appreciation of beauty, for me, could be linked to a time when human consciousness was emerging. One of the benefits was our unique ability to anticipate and predict; to make sense of chaos and when we succeed, we are rewarded with pleasant sensations. One of the most moving passages in Goethe's "The Sorrows of young Werther" was precisely concerned with this predictive habit and ability of humanity. So I'm inclined to think that beauty is appreciated when we are given a framework for understanding chaos, which could be a theory by which contemporary art can be understood or it could be our collected knowledge of the natural world; of the things that might threaten us; the weather, other animals, etc.etc. or far more likely, a combination of the two. When these things collide and we think we have solved the puzzle of chaos, we are sometimes rewarded with the pleasant sensation of beauty.

I totally agree with Ji, it was seen as white man’s world!

Sorry, should have initialled JM and not JI.

Post Script: My experience of the passage from Goethe was perhaps just such an example; it presented me with such a convincing explanation of the seemingly chaotic behaviour of humanity, that I nearly wept at its beauty. Religious believers think God is beautiful perhaps because of the simple framework it provides for understanding the chaos of the entire universe. Both Josh Spero and Matthew Collings are right: there is beauty in chaos simplified (Raphael's Christ) and there is beauty in the puzzle of chaos solved (surprise, novelty) but the only explanation for the subjective recognition of beauty must be something more fundamental: could it be the solving the puzzle of chaos itself?

@JW Thanks for your comment. I agree that power is very important in the production of art, but how far does this affect beauty? This is a good challenge to my argument: if you know more about Nazi art, will you find it more beautiful? @matthew collings I'm flattered you took the time to respond to this article. I agree that the intensity of a relationship with a painting is of course very important, and that would imply you find it beautiful, but surely you can enhance your appreciation of the beauty by learning more about the work? I find my appreciation of its beauty enhanced by knowing that Guernica was painted after a terrible bombing: it illuminates it to me. I don't see how my intensity is pretend, tho', and yours is not.

@Lee Woods - a very interesting contribution, thanks. I was tempted to talk about the evolutionary purpose of beauty: as Gombrich says, it was a way of making sense of the world and trying to control it; by painting pictures, we imbued them with magic too. So beauty could well be a response to natural chaos, but I don't think the magic aspect should be discounted either.

@Josh Spero - ref; "the magic aspect". I agree, I'd be the last person who'd want to reduce such feelings to merely the chemical release of endorphins (no spellchecker :-)) but that too is all part of the same thing for me. We seem to want to deny what we are with various forms of delusion (theological, etc) but delusion is great, delusion helps us to feel that life is interesting, exciting, worthwhile, "magical" - an interesting way of giving HUMAN life a purpose and meaning that we don't attribute to any other animal don't you think?

@Josh Spero; P.S. ... and yet another essential survival tactic. I mean what would have happened to all those newly conscious humans who were unable to delude themselves and therefore were depressed by the thought that we have no more purpose here than a cat? To survive and to propagate the species :-) Not many of them left is there? :-)

Was totally drunk, absolutely apologise for entry of 14 November -- criticisms of programe all seem very reasonable.

Matthew collings should stand naked in front of his top ten "beautiful Ideals".Then the viewer should consider which is a more beautiful creation.A humans own real feeling ,or a intellectual artefact without passion! I thought that his BBC article was cold and lacking in any understanding of what a very Raw emotion beauty can be.


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