Wednesday, 9 September 2015

The Palaeolithic artist: part 10

The concept that aesthetics is beauty
for beauty's sake seems incongruous
with the cave at Altamira. And what
of the aesthete? In our mind's eye
we see him as someone who knew
Oscar Wilde. 
Why would it be that I can place a small dark line along the edge of a shape, but not all of it, and when asked about its essence say only "It felt right"? Now that is not the feeling of the senses, I had not touched the line with my fingertips, The key is really "rightness". So can we then say, like Keats, that beauty is truth and truth is beauty? Certainly not. I have never experienced any sort of beauty in such a line. Even with  the entire painting, if I was happy with the result, I would say "It's good", never "It's beautiful". Yet, if I said my picture was bad, that could mean many things: it might be that I just was not inspired; it might mean that I made mistakes; perhaps I had bought cheap paint. I can find no real opposite to good in this context. Of course, "good" or "bad" can refer to whether something is a forgery or not, but this has nothing to do with our question. Similarly, an art critic might accuse a painting of being "contrived" and that just means that its process is too visible. The trick is to make the process fade away so it is not even noticed. No woman ever wants to hear "I like your makeup". We struggle with this, we have a vague sense of something poorly expressed as right, a feeling but not a feeling of something that has no opposite: something right or not right, but never right or wrong. something good or not good, but never good or bad.

The dictionaries do not help with "aesthetic" either. The older dictionaries especially so. We find something better with, and at the bottom of the list of adjectives:
relating to, involving, or concerned with pure emotion and sensation as opposed to pure intellectuality.
The lexicographer might have done better with "thought" than "intellectuality", but while emotion and sensation are frequently experienced together, and often quite enthusiastically so, thought can only enhance their strength and can hardly be placed in opposition.

Perhaps we should journey back in time to seek our answers. Finding ourselves in the Age of Enlightenment, we see that reason is trying to replace authority, but aesthetic is nowhere to be found at all. The Buddhist seeks enlightenment but could never achieve that state through reason or authority. Psyche seems absent here, too. although perhaps she lies bound with authority in the back of a church somewhere. There is something very disturbing in this time, perhaps we should go much further back.

Ancient Greece. In looking for the aesthetic, we see it in the built-in order of the temple to a deity; Pythagorean numbers that are supposed to lead to a spiritual enlightenment, but Oscar Wilde sees only the ephebe. There is everything here, sometimes in strange association: Apollo and Dionysos.
Could we have reached the crucible for everything that came later?

As we go further back, the light seems to fade into darkness until everything becomes black, and the blackness seems to stretch forever. But after what seems like an unconnected infinity, We see  just a little light ahead in the tunnel. Then we can just make out the figures of animals and as things get brighter still, we make out the boar on the cave wall, It seems strangely flat, though. Suddenly, we see a person who looks  a lot like ourselves. He smiles at us and then draws a little black line, our line, at the back of the hindquarters of the animal, and then a couple more around the edges of the flat shapes. Suddenly the animal gains volume everywhere, and motion. But something was just done in one place, yet a reality is created where he did not touch at all. We seem to back where we started. But how can this be? Is he really us? What strange magic. What synchronicity. We tire. Perhaps the solutions will come in the morning, It is time to rest.

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