In Bed: The Kiss, Toulouse-Lautrec, 1892

In Bed: The Kiss, Toulouse-Lautrec, 1892

As the greeting card, chocolate, and flower industries refused to let anyone forget, Valentine’s Day was last week. Actually having an enjoyable Valentine’s Day for the first time in probably ever got me thinking about the effects love might have on beauty and our perception of it. Love itself is an interesting concept since it’s a fairly fundamental aspect of human life, yet no one can really explain it well. What it means, and the varying types and degrees of love seem to vary widely from person to person. But I won’t be tackling love itself too much, just the effect it might have on aesthetics.
I suppose I’ll start with the obvious, which is that Kant would be having none of this. Something can’t be beautiful if love is involved because that would mean interest. And for there to be beauty there must be disinterest. Once interest is involved the best it can be is pleasant or good, not beautiful. Yet, and I think Kant may agree, love itself can be beautiful. If the beautiful is really more about a moment than an object then it seems to follow that a moment of love can be beautiful. Or maybe it’s just different. Actually, come to think of it, Kant probably wouldn’t agree, because in a moment of love there’s still interest, so it wouldn’t count. Kant seemed to be a bit of a stickler about that. I have the feeling he’d be outnumbered on this though. I think a lot of people would argue that love can be beautiful, and that things you love can be beautiful.
What about artwork which take on love as its subject? Do we tend to find these pieces more beautiful than others? Certainly I think some people are drawn more towards images of love, but I don’t think that necessarily makes those works more beautiful than others. There are plenty of pieces depicting hateful moments that are just as beautiful. Bernini’s The Rape of Proserpina is definitely not about love, the subject itself isn’t beautiful, but the way he was able to work the marble and make it look squishy like human flesh…that is beautiful. So maybe love doesn’t have that big of an impact on what art we find beautiful.

The Rape of Proserpina, Bernini, 1621-22, marble

detail of The Rape of Proserpina, Bernini, 1621-22, marble


Though there is another way love can affect the viewer. If someone is in love, are they more likely to find things beautiful? Obviously that’s an incredibly subjective question that I can’t reasonable find a real answer to. But I think it could. Generally when people are in love they’re happier and it’s easier to see the beauty in things when feeling good, as opposed to when sad (obviously you don’t have to be in love to be happy and you can be sad when in love, but you know what I mean). So while the beauty of a work may remain the same, people may be more likely to appreciate it when they’re in love.
Lastly there’s the effect of love on the artists themselves to take into consideration. Are artists who are in love more likely to create beautiful works? This is pretty much along eh same lines as the viewer in love question. If an artist is in love with his or her subject, what kind of impact does that have on the final piece? Is it more likely to be beautiful? Bringing Kant back into it, I wonder if pieces are more beautiful when the artist is disinterested in the subject than when in love with it. It’d be interesting to find out, though I’m not entirely sure how to go about doing so. There’s also the idea that an artist might be more inspired to create in general when in love, and especially to create beautiful things. Love can be a powerful inspiration. Of course you don’t have to be in love to create beautiful things; many beautiful pieces have been born from misery.
It seems the best I can do is barely scratch the surface of this topic. I welcome any other thoughts on the subject though, and perhaps I’ll revisit it at a later date.
Venus and Adonis, Rubens, early 1600s, oil on panel

Venus and Adonis, Rubens, early 1600s, oil on panel

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