Monday, June 1, 2009

Beauty and the system of making art

Art is the outcome of a system of emotional thought filtered from the environment, which illuminates the mind’s capacity for cognition and vision. It stimulates a person to think about correcting and perfecting an idea in order to express it intuitively in words or pictures. As a thought system it provides motivation to put technical skill at the disposal of experience to create an object or an idea for contemplation rather than action. The object or idea is an end in itself embodying supramundane values and meanings. Art is thus isolated within a symbolic frame. Inside the frame is the contemplatable world, where life must be lived for the sake of values, meanings and enjoyment put into the work of art by its maker and received from the work by its viewer. Although this relationship may involve the viewer paying for the art work, this is the inner spiritual world of the maker and viewer. Feedback from the maker contemplating his creation stimulates artistic development. Outside the frame is the liveable world, where life can only be lived for the sake of living materialistically, where our work is to be for possessions, and our being is for self-interest.

Beauty becomes attached to a work of art as it is viewed within its symbolic frame. It is not the object of making but an accident of making that happens to be strongly pleasurable to a particular viewer. In this sense beauty is a quality of the production system in the mind of the beholder. Also, like the art it is attached to, beauty as an aesthetic value, is an end in itself. Therefore, beauty becomes an idiosyncratic characteristic of objects or ideas and part of the system of thought which made them. Beauty thereby personalises the thought system to reinforce a perceptual experience of pleasure. This 'beauty/thought system' is a strong stimulus for contemplating an object or an idea. It is an amalgam of every possible type of human experience accumulated through learning, which can reinforce a mental response to objects and ideas. From this point of view there is no generally acceptable definition of beauty.

The beauty/thought contemplative system

In a world of mass production, it requires great effort to bring the two worlds of contemplation and work into one frame. Believing that this unity was the day-to-day life of medieval artists, many have tried to revive an historical religious attitude towards art and integrate craftsmanship with industry, art, religion and beauty. Eric Gill (1882-1940) was one such aspirant. A wood engraver, sculptor, typographer and draughtsman, he is regarded as one of the great English artist-craftsmen of the 20th century. His thought system as a maker of art involved a belief in social reform and the union of art and religion with flesh and spirit. He was the key personality in three Catholic art and craft communities and also a devoted family man. In this unified world he could truly say his work was to be, and to be was to work. At the same time he was a long-standing believer in sexual freedom and it is now clear that incest with his sisters and daughters was part of the thought pattern of Gill the artist and Gill the man. The following wood engraving of the Carpenter Father with the infant Son of God is a representative outcome of Gill’s thought system, which embraces the two worlds of work and contemplation. Gill’s tender, poignant engraving is based on a drawing made by his daughter Betty, and is a conceptual self portrait expressing Gill’s love for his daughter. All of this is the Gill contemplative thought system which produced the wood engraving, St Joseph.

At Joseph; wood engraving (1921)

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