Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Aesthetic Religion

Beat Beatrix by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882)

One of my favorite books and a treasured companion in the studio is Umberto Eco's History of Beauty. An historical and philosophical exploration around the notion of beauty over the ages through the visual and literary arts. Referring to the mid-19th century, Eco writes:
Confronted with the oppressiveness of the industrial world, the expansion of the metropolis swarming with immense anonymous crowds, the appearance of new classes whose urgent needs certainly did not include aesthetics, and offended by the form of the new machines that stressed the pure functionality of new materials, artists felt that their ideals were threatened and saw the democratic ideals that were gradually making headway as inimical. Thus they decided to make themselves 'different.' This led to the formation of an authentic aesthetic religion, and amid a spirit of Art for Art's Sake the idea became established that Beauty was a primary value to be realized at all costs, to such a point that many thought that life itself ought to be lived as a work of art.
This movement towards the aesthetic was a response by artists such as Dickens and Rossetti to the ugliness they experienced with the rise of industrialization and expanding capitalism. Artistic movements come and go throughout history but this particular period resonates for me in its devotion to Beauty as a "primary value." These visionaries from the past speak to my own artistic vision and life's journey. Call me a romantic! I am. With the rise of our technological and consumer society, contemporary artists have an opportunity to reclaim what might be defined as a neo-aesthetic religion. Like those artists before us who believed in the "religion of beauty," I believe it is time once again to bring beauty back into the conversation pertaining to art and as a relevant contribution within the art historical landscape. With the evolutionary shifts that are occurring now around the globe, now more than ever, beauty through the arts can be a call to awaken the human heart and inspire the soul. In the words of the late philosopher John O'Donohue:
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. From “Beauty: The Invisible Embrace”
Check out the art and beauty of Rod MacIver's work at Heron Dance

Note: For the other side of the story, check out Eco's On Ugliness.

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