For beauty being the best of all we know
Sums up the unsearchable and secret aims
Of nature, and on joys whose earthly names
Were never told can form and sense bestow;
And man has sped his instinct to outgo
The step of science; and against her shames
Imagination stakes out heavenly claims,
Building a tower above the head of woe.
Nor is there fairer work for beauty found
Than that she win in nature her release
From all the woes that in the world abound;
Nay with his sorrow may his love increase,
If from man’s greater need beauty redound,
And claim his tears for homage of his peace.
Posts Tagged ‘beauty’
For beauty being the best of all we know
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.