Posts Tagged ‘beauty’
An Armenian in Paris
Rabbi Benn Weiss followed me close as we made for the exit. ‘I love Art and I know what I like,’ he had said while staring at the canvasses long and hard.
We came out into the sunshine. He asked, ‘What makes Beauty? Is it what is unattainable?’
I nodded. My companion asked, ‘Beauty! Is it because it speaks truth?’
‘Oh yes!’ I said appreciatively, ‘Rabbi, you know the words beauty, art and truth already. Only I need to teach how these connect one another. Once you know how you could be a professional art critic if you want to.’
As we crossed the busy street to the Metro in front of an art store, my companion was for buying a few books to get himself started. ‘Forget books. Forget what that guide at the Gallery was telling you.’ I told him, ‘She was far out Rabbi, but she was a peach.’
Rabbi Benn Weiss glared at me at which I suddenly stopped short. Next moment I called out, ‘See that old lady!’
I told him that I was going to explain art using her as a living example.
My companion who had his eye full of Rubenesque ladies looked at me aghast. ‘See her back is curved and how she leans on her stick?’
‘Is that beauty?’ my friend was skeptical.
‘Why not?’ I asked, ‘Does beauty only reside in a fine form and youth?’ ‘Or does it in my perception of it?’
I was in the mood to explain. ‘Think Rabbi Weiss, I do not know her from Adam. How come I suddenly think of my grandmother who has been dead for ages?’
‘She was most precious to me.’ I felt a lump in my throat and said, ‘This old woman represents a kind of truth to me. Because she is not a trick played on my eye I take it, she is a real human being’.
‘So she stands for truth,’ the Rabbi nodded his head appreciatively.
Rabbi intoned, ’But she is an ugly truth. Old Age is real and makes scarecrows…’
I cut in, ’That is besides the point. My grandmother, dead grandmother represents Truth and she is unattainable’.
‘So dying makes one beautiful?’ the rabbi wanted to know.
Ignoring it I explained, ‘Yet this frail woman down on her last legs brought her image to me.’
I knew Rabbi Benn Weiss didn’t understand me. So I said the truth this old woman carried, went radical changes to impress upon me truth of something else.’
The rabbi said, ’I never knew your grandmother was so important to you.’
I nodded gravely and said, ’I carry that loss. She can no longer make me feel good with her smile and words. But that old decrepit woman out of the blue made me reach that higher sphere, is no longer an idea but real.’
‘Aha,’ the rabbi said with a smile, ‘the old woman represents Beauty in the way she could make her truth connected with something else.’
‘Not just something, but my grandmother!’
‘Yes, if you say so, if you say so.’ he said impressed, ‘why don’t you write to your parents for a change? You can sms them if you want to.’
I said my art of life made me unattainable. ‘My parents want me to be still connected. So would the bill collector’.
‘I want to be alone, as said by the burglar to the cop,’ intoned the rabbi.
Beauty is in the beholder’ eyes it is said. This implies personal preference and it is evident from various cultural artifacts left to us. Evolutionary Aesthetics is a hold- all for such preferences where some have tended to see a conflict of nature versus nurture.
Aesthetic preference is something that ultimately varies from person to person. Whether it is culturally taught or branded into our genetic makeup, preferences for beauty, style, and other characteristics of aesthetics can all be linked back to preferences. Broadly, scholars define aesthetics as “critical reflection on art, culture and nature.”(Zangwill Nick-1998/Aesthetic judgment) and in this short essay I shall keep my focus on the core value that must give all that philosophical ideas expressed from Aristotle down to James Joyce a basis. Truth is one world much maligned and yet as human beings we cannot swear by any thing else. For a simple illustration when a President takes office the oath is administerd to him on a Bible wherein he is required to uphold truth. But if he told truth away will he not jeopardize the national security? As a statesman said truth must be protected by a tissue of lies. Nations managing their fortunes not having the foggiest notions about their bearings sail through the mists of uncertainty and must steer clear of others. They cannot afford to tell truth. Instead their captains signal to one another hoping to gain some advantage. They emphazise on relative truth, which is fit neither here, above nor below. Yet it somehow works. Why? Our middle state cannot handle Truth the absolute quality that we ascribe to God.
Betwixt and Between
Zeus was once traveling accompanied by his daughter Athena. He was struck by the beauty of a sculpture and asked whose work it was. The goddess of Wisdom said,” Phidias.” Admiring it for a while he asked his daughter,” You are perfection in wisdom. Why can’t you then do some thing like that- a work of beauty?”
Athena laughed,” I, a goddess- work? Why waste my time?” The eagle which always accompanied the goddess whispered in Zeus’ ear, “ If she were to work it would mean her godly wisdom lacked something.”
“ That means she wouldn’t be perfect. Would it not?” the winged bird asked. Zeus could understand.
The sculptor was after all a mortal trying to achieve perfection in some area as best as he could. The bird looked at the sculpture with a critical eye and said,” Look at that index finger of the discuss-thrower. Shorter by a hairbreadth, – it would have been just perfect!”
Zeus snapped,” Phidias made it for his kind and for the praise of gods!”
Posted in short story, tagged art, beauty, Benny Thomas, duties, Law, mercantile mind, obligations, Oscar Wilde, story teller, the Happy Prince, trivializing life on December 4, 2010 | Leave a Comment »
The Unhappy Prince ©
It was a sight that hit whoever laid eyes on it. The statue of a prince sheathed in gold and many precious stones was a marvel. More marvelous was that there it stood for centuries, a ransom for an emperor unmolested, in the town Square. As I said no one on seeing it for the first time thought of anything other than beauty.
Who was that prince ? No one knew. It did not however stop the viewer from feeling uplifted by happiness of being alive. There was an inscription chiseled in marble and gilded and it read ART. In that town with strange spires and gargoyles spitting rain water the statue of a prince made art synonymous with the most noble sensation of happiness. The tradespeople basked under its spell; so did the town crier whose stentorian voice often made the hearts of people feel dread of some bad news coming to their happy shores. The prince was called with one voice the Happy Prince. He stood as symbol of their happy state.
Far North under a gelid sky the statue of the happy prince stood warming the cockles of the aliens and natives alike. Visiting embassies of kings, diplomats,- jesters in their caps and bells or in pinstripes made a detour without exception to the Square and there they stood lost in admiration before they presented their courtesies to the king.
The happy kingdom stood the test of time and stayed in perpetual happiness since the happy prince stood vigil as it were, over their weal.
Of course time brought certain changes in their lives. The town came under the rule of a town council and all the elders of the city unlike in the olden days were chosen by certain rules of the law and Law was the thing and not the people. Law stated progress was the right of the people so those who lived cheek by jowl with every one else took to find how far did their rights go. They had their home turf surveyed and fenced so their rights were guarded. Unlike in olden times neighbors came only by invitation and not by any feelings of sociability. Then came the officials by the order of the Council to give number to each house. Rights of the householder was reduced to a number.’ It makes the work of Mayor Swallow-Tail easier,’said the Mayors office. Soon every householder had to pay tax for the privilege of keeping his rights. ‘It makes the ‘Town Council function better with money in the coffers.’ said one statement issued like clockwork by the Mayor’s office. Progress meant better informed people.
One morning the Mayor passed through the Square and he had a shock of his life. There were puddles of water at the base of the statue. ‘What made the Prince unhappy?’ asked the Mayor. Same day he called for a meeting . The Council found the town finances were in arrears. Mayor Swallow- Tail wanted to know why the Works department was behind schedule.’ We should have completed the Trade and Commerce Pavilion two years ago. What is holding up?
‘Our coffers are empty’ said the treasurer appointed for that year.
‘We collect tax don’t we?’ asked the Mayor somewhat hot under the collar. Money became a topic that made him edgy and he had no way to cure it. One Councilor piped,’People are defaulting on their payments’. The Mayor was sure penal interest would deter them from treating matters of money casually. The town council went about a Collection drive that brought in some. Soon it was seen the statue was becoming shabbier by day. And by night.
The treasurer had a bright idea. ‘Why not tax the people for maintaining the statue to its proper glory?’ One Councilor pooh poohed it and said the Happy Prince was covered from time immemorial with pure beaten gold sheets. ‘Silver and precious stones adorn every available surface of the chain mail coat of the Prince. You want to gild the lily in his hands?’ The Mayor was stunned! He had never for a moment thought of the statue in terms of its parts. ‘Silver!’ The deputy Mayor who was on nodding acquaintance with the real Power nodded,’Yes Silver. Its worth beyond measure.
The Mayor wanted the worth of the Prince put down on the Official Register.
‘So long no one had thought the Prince in terms of money the councilors exclaimed in confusion.
‘Progress means paperwork.’ hollered the Mayor,
Yes, paperwork means an official Archives,’the deputy Mayor chimed in dutifully. He suggested that there ought to be a building for storing all the official records.
Then it was the question,’Is it wise to keep 5 million gold florins and 60 pence that was the official worth of the statue unprotected? The law of the town had clearly stated public property worth more than twenty florins should be locked and kept away for safekeeping. They were breaking law if the statue was left unattended. It agitated them and they had a great respect for law! The Council after deliberations took to vote and they passed a law that the statue would be moved to the bank vaults for safe keeping.
However before the law could be put into effect the Mayor found some miscreants had systematically stripped every precious metal from the statue. Not even a brass stud that cost two pence a piece was spared.
How did the happy Prince become Unhappy Prince?
Progress had seeped into every pore of the townsfolk and the statue had to pay the price for strange sensations that overwhelmed them. It was not happiness or art that moved them but the awful reality of defaulting on their tax obligations.
Law of their rights had in equal measure imposed on them their duties. In its equation art and happiness were too abstract and superfluous.
No wonder the statue of the prince looked in the vault more like a scarecrow and the officials from the Mayor’s office, who from time to time took inventory had to observe each time, ‘The unhappy Prince!’
(based on the Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde)
Reprinted from Elves Bells-ben4ben.wordpress.com
In one of my earliest posts I had given an anecdote on Matisse. A woman acquaintance of the artist called on him and after looking at the finished work she observed that he made her arm too long. She relied on her eyes. Whereas he had presented as what she represented to him. Both relied on their subjective feelings. At a moral plane of Truth there must be a common centre to which the sitter, the artist and the woman were trying to rest their conclusions as to their reality. The sitter has an opinion of herself and so has the viewer whether it is her portrait or the real. With such differing viewpoints is it necessary for Matisse to represent his sitter in any other way than what she represents to him?
How does the artist make his perception clear to others? He would probe beneath her physical appearance and place her on two dimensional plane: he delineates a higher truth in terms of line, color, texture and composition. Had it been her exact copy that was intended an artist might as well relied on photography for the purpose. An artist destroys the illusion of physical reality which is ephemeral so he may bring out the inner reality as perceived by him. A Scientist who from evidences arrive at a theory is in search of truth. An artist merely uses the two dimensional plane to describe a mood that whether it a live model or a landscape transcends the visual symbols he employs. There is an inner logic and truth which is outside the reality he is looking at.
Renoir, Auguste Pierre (1841-1919)
In old age the painter suffered from arthritis which twisted his hands and the cramps got worse. One day Henri Matisse watching him wield a brush with his fingertips and continue, despite the excruciating pain involved in each movement, asked why he persisted in painting.
Renoir replied,”The pain passes, but the beauty remains.”( Ack: Charles Getts-Guideposts)
Shortly befor his death, at 78 Renoir painted a watercolor- a bowl of anemones. He said it was his visiting card ‘to introduce me to the painters of heaven.”
A woman who knew what she liked in art was visiting Matisse in his studio. She studied the painting on his easel for a while and said, ”You have made the arm on that girl too long.” Reply of the artist was as simple as it was profound. He said,”Madame that is not a girl,it is a picture.”
Matisse painted portraits of his friends on the ceiling of his bedroom and he explained why.’They make me feel less lonely when I’m asleep.’
WORTH OF A PERSIAN CARPET ©
The City is noted for its minarets and gardens. On a
sunny day the four minarets of the Blue Mosque rise to
the skies like prayers of many believers; more
picturesque is the central dome covered with some
millions of blue tiles. Such blue is no more seen
since the sultan decreed ‘Blue is passé’. See how it
stands, a shimmering dome like the tear of an angel,
frozen in midair. The Blue Mosque. Poets loved
watching the dome under changing lights through the
day! It made their poetry sound sweeter. Hamals (or
porters) carrying heavy loads through winding and
crooked streets looked at that dome rising from the
city skyline and instantly their loads became lighter
and they thought life was worth living. No one could
resist its power. Except one.
See that crooked street cutting through the market?
Do you see that shop on the right? A To Z the board
says. Anything money can buy is sold there. Ziddiq,
the shopkeeper is dressed in drab clothes and his
beard is browned as his fingers are calloused. Henna
colored his beard which he allowed because his wife
thought brown was becoming in one so old; his fingers
were calloused from counting money: large sums of it
every night passed through his fingers when the folks
slept. While the dome of the Blue Mosque gleamed under
a waning moon! Poor Ziddiq! He had never even heard of
the blueness of the dome under whose shadow he lived
all his life!
One morning his neighbor told him in strictest
confidence the price of grains would go sky-high. How
high? Ziddiq asked. He quoted a figure. Ziddiq said,
”impossible.” As soon as his neighbor was gone he
called his eldest son to find what were the prices for
items written in his list. His son came back with his
findings. After reading it he was astounded! A sack of
barley cost only three copper pieces!”
Having ordered for as much as could be bought he had
a problem: ”Where to stock them?”
He knew just the place. He had a large warehouse
where his father put away every thing he had no
immediate use for. Just as his forefathers had done in
the past. It was bursting in its seams as the
expression is. He called a few servants and asked them
to clear up that place. Nothing was to be spared.
Hour’s later servants came to report. They said his
orders were carried out except for a carpet, which was
of size 64”by 37 inches.
“I am in no mood for checking the size of a carpet.”
“But master,” said Samir, ”It was made somewhere in
Samarqand probably late 17th century. It is silk. If
you ask me it is one of the finest.” “Shut up!”Ziddiq
yelled, ”Who asked you for your opinion?”
The silk carpet was decorated with a mihrab design
(a cusped arch with geometric motifs) in the field
counterpoised with arabesque in the spandrels. A
stylized floral pattern running around the edges
completed the piece.
He ordered the laborers to set light to it. “I
shall not have this nonsense here!” The menials balked
at the idea. They pleaded. “A thing of beauty,
master!”Samir cried. He became enraged at the word
beauty and he shoved them aside.
“A thing of beauty such as this has a life of its
own.” Kalam added his. They all pleaded with tears in
their eyes. With uncontrollable rage he pushed them
aside. He himself torched it and said, ”There, you try
to teach me beauty!” He was in a rage. He said, “You
all live a life of ease because I pay you wages in
time. Be gone!” He was so worked up.
That day Ziddiq went home very late. He was tired
but he had found a place for thousands and thousands
of sacks of grains, which came in a convoy one after
the other. Only seeing them secured for the night
eased his fury somewhat. Then he saw how his son had
put his men to guard it. He had done well, and the
father’s heart swelled with pride. The young man gave
him the keys and the accounts and left for home.
Mentally Ziddiq calculated the profit he stood to
make and that made him laugh. In a happy frame of mind
he followed his son.
He went home to eat his frugal supper. Even when he
went through the motions of the nighttime prayer he
had only one thought. He would make all his rivals
bite the dust. So much profit he stood to make. He
wandered through the house and secured the doors for
At the time he was about to lie down he thought he
heard a knocking sound. As if some were shifting
things around somewhere. So distinct it sounded. His
wife lay asleep. He checked into his sons’ room. They
were also asleep.
“Clickety-Click,” he heard. “It must be from across
the river,” said he. He put out the candle and lay in
bed. The same sound again. “Clikety-Clack!”
”Clikety-Klak!” The sounds came louder this time. He
thought it came from his drawing room. It was distinct
and very ominous. With each minute the clicking sound
went louder and louder. He could not sleep with such
an infernal noise. Again he got out. He lit a candle,
which he could barely hold for fright.
He peeped into the parlor.
There was an intruder!
And he had settled himself in the middle of the
parlor as if he owned the place. He felt a murderous
rage struggling with his fear at the scene presented
Across the parlor stood a weaving frame; and a very
old man with sad look in his deep-set eyes, went on
working. “What on earth!” It was all he could say. His
fear swallowed the rest of the sentence. Instead a
squeal. Even that did not distract the wizened
intruder. The ghastly apparition of a weaver did not
look up nor acknowledge his presence. Instead he was
bent over the frame intently checking his work. Having
satisfied himself he went on knotting the fibres and
cutting the knots to make naps. Ziddiq had no idea
whether his eyes were deceiving him or some rival of
his was hell-bent for mischief. Before his very eyes
filmed with fear and pricked with hate the old weaver
went on and on. His hands flew over the carpet while
adjusting the warp and the woof without missing a
beat. So free and fluid his movements were. As if he
had been doing it all his life and could have done
even while asleep.
He was masterly in his work.
Ziddiq stood there transfixed. Clickety-click,
Clinkety-clank, So went on the loom while the room
was lit by a spot of light that hovered around the
design, which was becoming clearer with each motion of
his hands. Ziddiq would have screamed but his voice
died silently. The weaver looked at him with sad eyes
that in its hurt, without any rancor whatsoever, no
stab-wound would have come anywhere near. It twisted
his heartstrings beyond endurance.
Ziddiq could only twitch in response.
He trembled uncontrollably when the spectre of a
weaver looked once towards him. Those eyes now seemed
to challenge him. The infernal intruder said, “ My
life was in that carpet. Now I must weave another
because you so callously destroyed it.”
Having said his piece he continued with his task as
if he were alone in his own workshop. He was sad as
before and yet, very resolute. As if he knew he could
do it. Without tiring himself. Ziddiq could do nothing
but watch in horror. He went hot and cold as an
exquisite design began to take shape before his eyes.
Clikety-clack! Clickety-click! The weaver went on
without stopping and he was inhuman that he could draw
for his carpet filaments out of thin air! He wanted to
scream but nothing. He stood there petrified!
Poor Ziddiq! While the swirls of design now settled
down to a pattern he felt short of breath! As if the
ground under his feet gave way to something
insubstantial, and the walls melted and flowed about
him. Clickety-click! clikety- Clak! went on the loom
unrelenting. ‘Clickety-click! Clikety-clak!’ It went
on enveloping everything else.
Next morning the City awoke to some astounding news.
Where the ancestral home of Ziddiq stood nothing ever
remained but a prayer mat. No one could well explain
what occurred in the small hours of the night.
Samir and Kalam came as usual to take orders from
their master. Instead they were witnesses to
something, which no one could explain. There stood not
a trace of the master’s house! Some one had cleaned up
the old wooden beamed house with terrace and balcony
and not even a door hinge lay there; the wrought-iron
washstand where their master always went for wash
before prayers was missing; the folding stool and the
holy book also had vanished! Except a prayer mat.
Passers-by came over by curiosity and all that they
saw was the curiously wrought prayer mat. Nothing
Samir could not take his eyes off it. It didn’t
explain the mystery! Still bewildered he stood there.
Finally he commented, ”A crazy-quilt pattern. I see
Master’s profile his beard and all- so distinct. What
do you think, Kalam?”
“I do not think anything,” Kalam replied, “But the
mat will make some money for a second-hand dealer.”