Dionysus, and the Endurance of Beauty

By |2019-07-30T15:21:52+00:00July 30th, 2019|Culture|

The following is an excerpt of an article by Bournbrook co-editor Jake Scott. This features in our fourth print issue, available NOW.

Find out how to get your own copy of the issue here.

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One of the classic lines we hear when discussing art is that it is ‘subjective’; that the value of art lies in the person regarding it, be it poetry, painting, sculpture, music, video or other forms. What this often mistakes is that all appreciation of art is not on an equal footing, but rather reflects the capacity of the audience for taste. But this is part of a different discussion, over individual perception, and therefore is predicated on a different subject to the one I wish to discuss here. Instead, I would like to discuss the issue of beauty, and where it resides.

Beauty is intrinsic. We often hear arguments that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, which is a lazy and kitchesque argument that leads to relativism and a belief that beauty is entirely subjective. What this also forgets is that beauty is both an intrinsic to an object, and an experience.

Consider, for instance, Bottoceli’s Birth of Venus (below). We are struck, instantly, that this is a work of enduring significance because, even though the moment to which it is relevant has long passed (the Renaissance Raphaelite movement), we still appreciate the attention to physical form, the imagination surrounding the form of the cherubs, the acute capture of the unfolding scene of a bloom in nature, the accuracy of the brush strokes, and the feeling that what we are looking at reveals to us a transcendental moment. In this, we know that the physical beauty before us communicates the universal appreciation of super-human moments, that we cannot be a part of in reality but can enjoy through art.

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Sandro Boticchelli, Birth of Venus. Photo by Lucas on Flickr.

When one hears of the uncovering of the statue of Dionysus in Rome, one can imagine the jubilation on the excavators’ faces when they revealed the statue (I urge you to find an image of this online; copyright laws prevent me from showing it here!). The craftsmanship involved, as in the Birth of Venus is only one half of the story – the other is the immediate recognition that this is no unshaped lump of marble, nor even a work of momentary significance. It is a monument to the enduring nature of beauty, of the recognition that what is truly beautiful is always beautiful, regardless of the audience viewing it, or the author that made it, or the time in which it was made. The beholder is almost irrelevant – beauty is in the thing itself.

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Read the rest of this article in the print issue, information on which can be found HERE.

Photo by Carole Raddato on Flickr.

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