The Meaning of Beauty

The Meaning of Beauty

The Meaning of Beauty

The Meaning of Beauty

Excerpt

I HAVE BEEN GOADED INTO WRITING THIS BOOK CHIEFLY BY THE doubts and hesitations that have always arisen in my own mind whenever I have found myself compelled to use the word 'beauty', but partly by the question, familiar enough in discussions on contemporary art, "Why have so many modern artists abandoned the search for beauty?" The double implication, that it is part of the artist's duty to search for beauty and that some contemporary artists of unquestioned reputation have failed to find it or have refused to look for it, seems to need a convincing answer. The stock answers-- "The creation of beauty is not the artist's principal task" and "Our sense of beauty is so capable of development and expansion that it is dangerous to use the word as though it had an absolute value"--are far from satisfactory. The first provokes, in its turn, the reply that the creation of beauty may not be the artist's major preoccupation; but, none the less, artists are invariably judged by their power to create something that strikes the beholder as beautiful. The second leads to the further question, "But surely somewhere there is a yardstick? Here is a word for which there is no synonym, denoting a value that sooner or later becomes a major part of every human being's experience; do you tell me that it has, to all intents and purposes, no meaning?"

This book, then, is about the meaning of a word. It is certainly not a treatise on æsthetics. Except within the vaguest limits, beauty cannot be described: therefore it cannot be defined. It cannot be measured either in quantity or quality: therefore it cannot be made into the basis of a science. It has always proved impregnable to the frontal attacks of the æstheticians. None the less, it would seem reasonable to stalk the word, to outflank it and creep up on it from behind. Eventually one must have the courage to meet it face to face, but a preliminary . . .

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