On Beauty

“If you can draw, you can do advertisements or comic books or something,” Brielle was saying, “but it’s like art museums don’t take art seriously anymore.”

“For most of history,” Mr. Magundi replied, “the question we asked about art was ‘Is it beautiful?’ Now we ask, ‘Is it meaningful?’ In fact, I think many, perhaps most, artists today would be insulted and appalled if you told them art was supposed to be beautiful. But I think without beauty we lose the meaning. Too much of the art I see today is little more than a punch line. You get it, and you laugh, or you say that it’s clever, and then you’ve got everything there is to get from it. There’s just one joke; it may be thought-provoking, but it provokes only one single obvious thought. But if you look at Picasso’s Guernica, you see infinitely more. Picasso could have scrawled ‘War is hell’ on a bedsheet and hung it on the wall, and that would convey a message. But it would not fascinate us, and it would not move us. What moves us is beauty, even in horror. What fascinates us is complexity and subtlety, something that engages us in a conversation rather than simply declaring a fact to us like a newspaper headline. In histories of art two centuries from now, I think our era will be portrayed as the one-joke era of art, and it will be dismissed in a paragraph. The next paragraph will turn with a sense of relief to the era when beauty was rediscovered as the primary goal of art.”

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