Monday, July 19, 2010

What is beauty? Part 1

Recently I have been thinking about what is beauty? How does it relate to art? How do we define it? I know--heady topics and I really don't have a grip on them--but fun to ponder. I think I'll nibble around it at the edges. Lots of time while I finish my most recent quilt--rainbows of summer--which I need to finish by the PA Guild Show in Wilmington, July 31-August 1.

This quilt is based on the feeling of peak season in my flower garden when everything seems like it is perfect. There is a completeness--at least for me. It's hot (although maybe not as hot as it has been here recently.) The garden has so many flowers that one notices the flowers and not the foliage. Peak season doesn't last for long--alas. Here let me show you the bottom of the quilt:

Of course the colors are going to come around at the top to become blues and purples again. I added another row of blue to the top but I'm sure you get the idea.

See what I mean--this quilt is beautiful. Some quilts are a struggle from their very inception--others almost seem to pop right out. This one is the latter. Sure there were a couple color palettes that I had to contemplate. I even had a few pieces that just did not work. But for the most part--this quilt just came into being. What do you think?

Now as I'm doing the finish work I  have plenty of time to think. Has this piece been too easy?  It is beautiful--but is will it be considered art? Can art be beautiful in the 21st century?

I remember that I  have a copy of Umberto Eco's Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages. Now this is a scholarly book and I must confess that most of it goes right over my head. Whoosh. But the Middle Ages fascinate me. A time so similar to ours and yet also so different.  What was considered beautiful in the Middle Ages? How has the concept of beauty and art changed over the course of history? It turns out that at least according to Eco beauty back then was highly valued. Cathedrals were beautiful. Beauty was sensual--representing the natural world although not necessarily representational. The richness of gold and precious metals as a method of seeing the divine.  The ornamentation on the precious texts so that those who could read would absorb the words and the others would gain the meaning from the illustrations.  I even read a great quote that " the literature of the laity."  Even the ascetics knew  the power of beauty--they just didn't want to be distracted by it.

I need to read more. What is the relationship between art and beauty both in the Middle Ages and in the contemporary world? I know I have seen plenty of traditional quilts that are beautiful but that I don't consider art. However, IMHO  the best of the Amish quilts have an edge that makes them both beautiful and art. Is it that edge that we now search for? What do you think? Any examples?

I feel that I am not even scratching the surface of this question but need to know more.

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