Tag Archive: beauty

Ah, spring is finally upon us, which means that, along with the allergens that will soon be invading my nasal passages, love is in the air. It also means we’ve entered wedding season. Though people get married year-round, spring is still traditionally seen as “wedding season” and there is an abundance of wedding related advertising. If you’re in your mid-twenties or older, chances are you have at least one wedding to attend this year, maybe more. The first time one of your friends get married, it’s fun an exciting; once the “save the date” magnets start over-taking your refrigerator it’s all a bit overwhelming and exhausting. So come, rest, and let me tell you why weddings are terrible.

I should preface this by saying that when I talk about weddings, I’m not talking about marriage itself. Yes, I could go into a feminist tirade about patriarchy and gender roles, but overall I’m pro-marriage. Two people in love deciding to spend the rest of their lives together is great if that’s what they want. No, I’m talking about the weddings themselves. I’m discussing an event, not an entire institution.

So why are weddings terrible? For one they promote exorbitant spending, even amongst those who cannot really afford it. Weddings continue to get increasingly lavish, with more and more money being spent on a one day affair. We live in a consumer culture and because of this many believe that spending will buy happiness and self-fulfillment. Advertisers use romance as a way to sell goods, and goods become an important part in our celebration of romance. Not surprisingly lavish weddings have their origins around the time of the Industrial Revolution and really took off in the post-WWII period. Weddings become a way to show your status and taste. The show Four Weddings on TLC is all about judging brides on their level of taste and the amount put into their weddings. There is increasing pressure to have a wedding that meets a certain standard, a standard which is getting ever higher.
Indeed a lot of the items now seen as standard or even required for a wedding were traditions started by companies trying to sell their product. Take for example diamond rings. Rings have been used in wedding ceremonies for hundreds of years, but it wasn’t until the 1940s that diamond rings became an essential purchase if one wants to get engaged. And this is all because there was a plentiful supply of diamonds around the world that needed selling, and the N.W. Ayer advertising agency was there to move merchandise for their client. They transformed a rock into a symbol of enduring love.

Soon it will be a requirement for women to arrive to their weddings in giant hamster balls - I mean glass carriages.

Soon it will be a requirement for women to arrive to their weddings in giant hamster balls – I mean glass carriages.

Another reason weddings are terrible is because in the quest for the perfect day/moment many women turn this need for perfection on themselves. Many brides make their bodies another project or goal to be worked on so they can be beautiful on their big day. They try to lose weight, whiten their teeth, tan, hire professional hair and make-up artists all just to attain the image of beauty they want for their wedding. They may even impose these standards on their bridesmaids. There’s also an idea around that brides are beautiful and that anyone who doesn’t marry is ugly.

I suppose really to explain why weddings are terrible I could have just said one word: “Bridezillas.” But I don’t want to dedicate too much space to these horrible people, and give them the attention they so clearly crave. But seriously, bridezillas. (As for whether it’s bridezillas who make weddings terrible, or the terribleness of weddings that makes bridezillas, that’s really a chicken or the egg question for me. I think they both feed into each other about equally).

I don't know why this picture exists, but I'm glad it does.

I don’t know why this picture exists, but I’m glad it does.

Now after all of this, I’m sure there are some of you out there thinking, “Weddings are not terrible! You’re probably just a bitter, jealous old maid who lives with her 20 cats.” And for you I have two things to say: 1.) No, no I am not; and 2.) Even if I were, in way that’s kind of the point. Weddings are terrible because they marginalize and exclude a large segment of the population – single people. There’s nothing wrong with being single, yet this standard for lavish weddings as likely the one big day of your life makes it easy for single people feel like if they don’t get married they’ve somehow failed. And that just isn’t true. There’s also the fact that lavish weddings currently favor heterosexual couples, but that’s slowly changing at least.

So are weddings terrible? In theory? No. theoretically a day of celebration for two people in love is beautiful and great. In reality? Yes. Unfortunately in today’s consumer culture weddings have become less a celebration of love and more a celebration of goods and status/image. I imagine there’ll eventually be some backlash against these lavish weddings. But we’ll see.

If you’re interested in this subject or want proof that I’m not the only one who thinks weddings are terrible I recommend Cinderella Dreams: The Allure of the Lavish Wedding by Cele C. Otnes & Elizabeth H. Pleck and White Weddings: Romancing Heterosexuality in Popular Culture by Chrys Ingraham.


The Unexpected Moment

Yesterday I had to run over to the library in the Metropolitan Museum of Art because there was something wrong with my account and there’s a book I need to request. Turns out apparently those cards expire. Who knew? Anyway, fixing the problem took all of about a minute, which left me with over an hour until my train home. Since I’d rather be surrounded by beautiful art than standing around Penn Station I decided to wander around for a bit. No real goal in mind – just wasting time mostly. So I was surprised when I found myself standing in front of some (mostly) French paintings feeling well…I’m not entirely sure “awestruck” is the right word, but it’s the best I can think of, so I’ll say I was feeling awestruck. There was just something about these paintings that got to me. Looking at the paintings, looking at the paint itself and the brushstrokes…it was just a powerful moment. It kind of reminded me of why I’m doing what I am, and why I got my degree in art history. I feel like in grad school, when you’re super bogged down with work it can be easy to forget why you decided to do this in the first place. So it was really nice to get that reminder. I’m not sure there’s any real point to this post…except maybe just to say: go out and see some art guys! You never know what impact it may have on you.

The Beach at Deauville, Kees van Dongen, 1945-55, oil on canvas.

The Beach at Deauville, Kees van Dongen, 1945-55, oil on canvas.

Love and Beauty

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

The Squick Factor

A couple of weeks ago I saw a post on Tom and Lorenzo about jewelry made from human hair (http://www.tomandlorenzo.com/2011/07/kerry-howley-jewelry-collection.html).  I immediately had two very different reactions.  On the one hand I wanted to look closely at them because they seemed to delicate and intricate; and on the other I wanted to close the window and shudder because the thought of wearing human hair was so icky.  There was no denying the necklaces had their own type of beauty.  But there’s also no denying the squick factor.

One of the hair necklaces created by Kerry Howley

            So why is it so gross to think about wearing human hair?  We wear other animals’ hair all the time.  Even their skin if you wear leather.  And that’s fine.  So why no human hair?  You might be able to convince me to wear something made of my own hair, but certainly not someone else’s.  I spin animal fibers all the time, but I can’t imagine spinning human hair.  I’m not sure it’d spin up that well anyway though.  It’d probably have to be blended with another fiber.  But I digress.  People wear wigs and toupees made out of human hair and that’s fine too.  Maybe because it’s on a head where hair belongs.  Or there’s still that layer of netting or whatever between their head and the foreign hair.  I dunno.  I guess it’s because we view ourselves as so much better than animals that it’s ok to wear things made of animal parts but not human.  Even though personally I don’t agree with the wearing of real fur, the thought of wearing a fur coat still doesn’t evoke the same icky feeling as wearing a hair necklace. 

            This whole thing also got me thinking about the beauty of the gross.  There are certain things that while icky, are also somehow beautiful.  There are some things that you just can’t seem to stop looking at, even if they are kind of gross (and not just in a train wreck way).  I can think of a lot of examples of art that fit into this category.  Strangely a lot of it is religious art.  There are many Northern paintings of Jesus after his death that are really rather disgusting in their realism, yet the pieces are still beautiful.  There are also a number of various beheading scenes with blood dripping or squirting out of necks and throats.  I’m not sure if in this case the religious aspect of the works sort of negates the gross, or if it just shows that gross and beautiful are not mutually exclusive.

An example of religious squick - Caravaggio's Judith and Holofernes

            Certainly there are certain things that are just plain gross and always will be.  But some things are gross in an interesting way, and even some in a beautiful way.


Colorful Contemplations

            Standing in front of a wall of paint chips was the inspiration for this post.  It got me thinking about colors.  I love colors.  It’s hard for me to pick a favorite or least favorite color.  I tend to gravitate towards the cooler colors, but I’m a sucker for a retro print full of reds, oranges and yellows as well.  There’s no denying that colors can be beautiful.  Black and white works can be beautiful too though.  So what is color’s role in beauty?

            I believe it was Kant who said that color has no place in beauty, or something to that effect (I’m too lazy to look it up, but it’d be somewhere in the 3rd Critique).  I think Kant’s view is a little bit extreme, but it does make you think.  I think color does have a place in beauty, since colors themselves can be beautiful.  But color is not needed for beauty.  I think it really varies piece by piece.  You can’t just slather color on something and expect it to be beautiful.  But neither can you expect something to be beautiful just because it’s black and white.  It makes me think of sculpture.  A lot of the old statues and monuments were originally painted and very colorful.  Through the centuries the paint has chipped away or faded so we can only see them as whatever the color of their medium.  We find them beautiful as they are now, but were they more beautiful then with all their color?  Or did the color take away from the beauty of the sculpture?  It’s hard to say.  Maybe a test of beauty is if it can be beautiful in color and in black and white (or I guess just without color).  But I’m not sure even that works, since bright, colorful sunsets are beautiful, but they wouldn’t be nearly as impressive without the color.

            I’m sure I’d feel differently if I were colorblind and couldn’t see some or any colors.  I’m sure if it’s something you were born with colorblindness isn’t that bad.  But personally I think it’d be very depressing to not see the world in all its colorful glory.  I feel so torn.  I want to say that it’s not color that makes things beautiful, but the colors themselves are beautiful, so I don’t know.  Color definitely has a place in beauty; it’s just a bit tricky figuring out the degree of its importance.

color vs. black and white:

color flowers by me, 2010

black and white flowers by me, 2010

Mistaken Beauty

           One of the first things we were asked to write about in my aesthetics class was a time when we either thought something was beautiful and later came to realize it wasn’t, or came to find something we didn’t find beautiful, beautiful.  At the time I couldn’t really think of a good answer, so I’ve decided to revisit it.  I’m not saying I’ll definitely come up with a good answer, but I’ll try.

            I can think of a few instances where I got to see pieces of art I may have seen in class in person and found them much more impressive than I did originally.  But that’s not really the same.  I’m really having trouble thinking of something, and I feel like it shouldn’t be this hard.  All I can really think of is pigs.  I used to be fairly indifferent to pigs but then when I got to see the little baby pot-bellied pigs in person I completely fell in love with them.  Now I think pigs, especially lil pigs are just so cute.  But then again that goes back to my post a couple of weeks ago about cute vs. beauty so it still might not be the same thing.

            The answer I gave in class was ancient art.  I used to not really care about or be very interested in ancient art.  But after taking two ancient art classes (Islamic Art, which wasn’t all ancient stuff, but a lot of it was, and Ancient Mesopotamian Art) I definitely saw it in a new light.  I’m not sure if I found it more beautiful though.  I think I just found it more interesting and appreciated it more after learning about it.  But I think it’s the closest I’ve come to not finding something beautiful originally and then changing my mind. 

            Certainly when it comes to people there have been times I found someone attractive at first, but then found them less appealing after getting to know them better.  Nice outsides can only cover ugly insides so much.  So I am familiar with the disappointment that goes along with discovering that mistake.  But I can’t really think of a specific thing.

            Well, since I still can’t really think of a great answer, I’ll open the question up to you dear readers.  Has there been a time you realized something you once dismissed was beautiful after all?  Has there been a time when you found something you once thought beautiful not to be so at all?

Art and Money

            The other day I was looking at the blog of one of my former art teachers and read the entry about selling his work (which can be read here: http://paintthepainting.wordpress.com/2011/03/02/lets-break-up/).  It made me kind of sad.  As someone who will (hopefully) be entering the art world more seriously in the next few years it made me sad to think that one day I may start to see beautiful works of art as just thinks to be bought and sold.  Maybe I’m too sensitive for the business side of the art world.  I like knowing a piece’s history and back story (and not just for provenance purposes).  It adds to its charm and gives it character.  I think it’s also nice to know that a piece is going to a good home.

            And really, how do you put a value on a work of art?  Obviously if it’s done by a well known artist the piece gets a higher price.  I don’t think that’s necessarily fair though.  I’m sure there are a lot of pieces by relatively unknown artists that deserve to sell their work for just as much as the famous artists.  Then there’s the fact that an artist’s work tends to sell for more after their death.  That also doesn’t seem very fair.  Artists put so much time, money and emotion into their work, they deserve to see something back from that while they’re alive and can enjoy it.  If it’s a piece from a limited edition the ones near the beginning and end of the series are worth more than the ones in the middle.  One of a kinds are worth more than multiples, etc.  A lot of it just seems so arbitrary. 

            As much as it pains me to do so, I have to agree with Heidegger and his view of the art industry.  Heidegger says in “The Origin of the Work of Art” that, “The whole art industry, even if carried to the extreme and exercised in every way for the sake of works themselves, extends only to the object-being of the works.”  This is a shame because there’s so much more to a work than its object-being.  A piece is its place and time of creation.  It’s the artist’s hard work, emotions and memories.  How do you put a price on emotions and memories?  But that’s what artists selling their work have to do all the time.  And art dealers have to tell other people what their hard work and efforts are worth.  Even for commissioned pieces the artist may not have much attachment to they still have to put a value on themselves and their time.

            I don’t own many original works of art other than my own yet.  But as I grow my collection I hope I always keep a piece’s past in mind and honor it in the future.  I’d want the artists to feel confident his or her work is going to someone who values and appreciates it.  I hope I never lose my appreciation for art and beauty.

The Cute Conundrum

          As I sit here playing fetch with an almost frustratingly eager to please Labrador I am once again confronted with cute.  I’ve been thinking a lot about cute lately, after starting my new job, and trying to figure out its place in aesthetics.  I’m not sure any philosophers have tackled cute, but I will try.  Certainly cute is pleasing.  Most people would rather look at cute than ugly.  But it’s not the same as beauty – just ask someone who’s been called cute instead of beautiful.  They seem very similar, but yet somehow worlds apart.  I feel certain that Kant would dismiss cute as part of the pleasant and not the beautiful.  And maybe he’s right.  Or maybe cute is kind of a subset of the beautiful.  The cute has a way of getting to you, sometimes in a way similar to beauty.  Maybe it’s a biological thing.  Beauty may inspire art, but cute inspires nurturing.  Both can invoke a sense of wanting to capture and preserve.  When you see beauty, you want to have it. When you see cute you want to cuddle it.  Cute can melt your heart while beauty can set it aflutter. 

            But why does beauty get so much more attention than cute?  I think cute is getting more attention these days than it did previously, with websites like http://cuteoverload.com and http://icanhascheezburger.com.  But beauty still seems to be above cute in the hierarchy of things.  I suppose at its core it really could be a biological thing.  Beauty gets more attention because it’s more closely related to reproduction.  Or going the more romantic route, beauty gets more attention because it’s more closely associated with love. Not that you can’t love cute things, but it tends to be a different, less romantic, more nurturing love. 

In the end, maybe it all comes down to awe-inspiring versus aww-inspiring.  I think cute does have a place in aesthetics though, even if it’s not as highly regarded as beauty.  There is room for both of them and I think it’s time that cute claim its place. 

(photo borrowed from cuteoverload)