Who Murdered Beauty? – Cedar Sanderson

Who Murdered Beauty?- Cedar Sanderson


We meet today, my friends, to attempt to solve a crime. A crime against all of humanity, one which is extinguishing the life from Art, Philosophy, and even Ethics. Unlike with a human life, the existence may yet be restored to Beauty, but it will take solving the murder first, so we may begin to breathe life anew into these noble causes. We may look at the vast scope of what we contemplate, and wonder: can we do this? Is it worth doing? What difference can we few make?


I say, let us discuss Means, Motive, and Opportunity, and in doing so, you may find answers to some of your questions. I may take an obscure path, through all of Aesthetics, but I think you will see our steps guided through the philosophy of the nature of humanity and soul, to the visual feast of Art.




The death of objective standards of beauty, which would lead in time to the demise of Art, and which was a visual indication of the state of affairs in which Ethics and Philosophy find themselves today, began innocently enough. The rise of the great philosophers in the 18th century was lauded as a new wave of humanism. Gone was the world’s dependence on that crutch, religion. Humanity was the be-all and end-all, and with death, there is only silence hereafter. A world ready to abandon those who would tell them what to do and how to do it, embraced this concept, only to find themselves very shortly back in the same situation.


“Beauty is no quality in things themselves: It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty. One person may even perceive deformity, where another is sensible of beauty; and every individual ought to acquiesce in his own sentiment, without pretending to regulate those of others.” (Hume 1757, 136)


With nudges and suggestions and sly winks, Hume, Kant, Nietzsche and many others removed the idea that there is a standard, be it for morals, beauty, or thought. If all is relative, relative to what?


The rise of Humanism brought about the rise of Nihilism, and “What began as a critique of divine authority due to humanist influences became part of a much wider social movement that criticised any kind of authority as ultimately unjustified…” (Nihilism and the Sublime Postmodern By William Slocombe, 2006, p11)   What had begun, in other words, as questioning authority, had become a rejection of any authority, of any standards or objective foundations. All must be destroyed, and a new thing brought up in the rubble, to separate the new from the old.






Philosophers who were engaged in the building of the New Western Culture, one stripped of all that had gone before, inasmuch as they were capable of, affected the academic and literary bastions first, then slowly this rippled throughout the world as it was taught to those who would teach, and so on. Nietzsche was one of the ‘rockstars’ of this early movement. “As early as 1873, Nietzsche was arguing that human reason is only one of many peculiar developments in the ebb and flow of time, and when there are no more rational animals nothing of absolute value will have transpired (“On truth and lies in a non-moral sense”).” (Dale Wilkerson, ND)

Values, much less absolute values? Valueless. “Given that no absolute values exist, in Nietzsche’s worldview, the evolution of values on earth must be measured by some other means. How then shall they be understood? The existence of a value presupposes a value-positing perspective, and values are created by human beings (and perhaps other value-positing agents) as aids for survival and growth.” (Dale Wilkerson, ND) And here we come to the nut of the matter. If all is relative to the human experience, no more and no less, how can we possibly say one thing is better than another? If you see it as beautiful, and I do not, and you are louder than I am, in control over me, as socialists would have it (because in communal control, all are in control over all the others, unless there are some who are more equal than others, in which case they are in control. “The tendencies in socialism that came to be known as ‘Marxist’ or ‘Communist’ exemplify this position. The rhetoric was always that the goal was the direct and communal control of society for the common benefit of all members.” (What is Left? Nihilism vs Socialism, 2012)

“This is simply a statement of solipsism -‘without me the world does not exist‘ – although it does have wider reaching implications when it is perceived as the belief that nothing exists at all; that is, nothing exists, there is no reality against which to measure this, and no-one to measure it anyway. It is based upon the belief that reality is illusory, an arbitrary set of rules that has no meaning. The view that ̳nothing is real ‘can lead to either a magnificent furore of being the centre of the universe – without its perception by the observer, the world does not exist – or to complete impotence in the face of an overwhelming nullity, depending upon the extent to which this nihilistic formulation is pursued.” (Will Slocombe, 2003)

We are left now, in the age of progressives, post-modernism, and nihilism, with an emptiness. We dare not say ‘this is beautiful’ or ‘this is art’ or even, ‘this is true’ as they have taken all those things from us. They have cut the head off of beauty and proclaimed that it never existed, that there are no standards, and there ought not to be. All is relative… self-evidently relative to what they want, as they are in control.

Hegel, lecturing on Aesthetics, comments “Beauty and art does indeed pervade all the business of life like a friendly genius and brightly adorns all our surroundings whether inner or outer, mitigating the seriousness of our circumstances and the complexities of the actual world, extinguishing idleness in an entertaining way, and, where there is nothing good to be done, filling the place of evil always better than evil itself.” (Hegel) And here again, we have found one of the pieces of the puzzle. For the goal of the ones who would kill beauty is, after all, to deny the existence of “good” and “evil” in this world. Only through that may they claim that the ends justify the means, when the means is accomplished through the deaths of millions of innocents. Only in their world, there is no innocence, either, which is why they exalt those who prey on children.



We have abandoned the lists, my friends. PostModern art claims no standards, no need to be beautiful in any way but how shocking it may seem. Nothing is left to do, “The fundamental principle that there is nothing new to create has made the use of quotations an important stylistic feature of postmodern art.” (Andrea Gern, 2003) So why even bother trying? And certainly, if you look at a display of postmodern art, you will wonder why they did bother trying.

How can we be encouraged when it seems the Art we desire has been eclipsed by schools of thought like this? “An interesting set of ideas about art, its context and its relation to philosophy comes from the American philosopher and art critic Arthur Danto. What makes something a work of art is not, says Danto, to be found by looking at its obvious properties. Danto believes that what “makes the difference between a Brillo box and a work of art consisting of a Brillo box is a certain theory of art. It is the theory that takes it up into the world of art, and keeps it from collapsing into the real object which it is.” (Anja Steinbauer 2006)

“The “art” that has been produced over this time is revolting, and the general public dislikes and disrespects it. It has become a joke of sorts. Everything associated with “modern art” is so crazy and irrational, people have stopped paying attention to it. They believe it’s a stupid game played by intellectual snobs. They don’t understand the “art”, and don’t understand the game. They ignore it, deeming it to be useless.” (Jeff Landauer and Joseph Rowlands, 2001)

One of my favorite fantastic artists (in the sense of genre and art style rather than adverbial) is Bob Eggleton. He has been derided by the general art community for his choices of venue, but has a skill and style, and above all, beauty to his artwork that few can claim. He has this to say, recently, “The sad fact about the “Art World” is people get told to like/buy into certain fads, trends and fashions. This results in a lot of questionable art(“Is it art? What is it? It’s a line on a canvas”) being sold at very high prices. Read a quote where one artist said “If something doesn’t sell I go back and put a cat in it” as if his entire show was a failure because 7 out of 8 paintings sold. He was serious too. The reality of all this makes my stomach curdle. Along with overhearing a younger person talk about a museum with priceless works in it having utterly no interest to him, his interest being the latest smartphone tech. If people detect any notes of defeatism in me lately, I think it’s hearing this kind of mindset….”



I know this has been long, and tedious to read. I believe it is important to discuss this, the death of beauty, and how it came to pass. Only then can we discover how to revive it. Not art for art’s sake, but because in knowing what is beautiful, we can rediscover what is right, pure, and good. Only then can we reject that which is evil, destructive, and immoral. For there do need to be morals. Rejection of ‘immorality’ opens up the pit to whatever may slither forth and root itself in society, the breadth of human appetites, and this is why humanity has come to loathe itself.

Self-loathing, and a desire to be extinguished, turned society’s face from beauty. Our hostess, when I talked about this post and what I planned to discuss, pointed out that they want to add ground glass to every candy. All: fashion, toys, art, literature, everything a human can craft to elevate their existence, is immolated. You see, if they can elevate, they must be pulled down, in the name of equality. If all are to be common, and in common held, as socialism strives for, then none can achieve a higher plane, whether it is through the creation or appreciation of beauty.

But before I go, I would like to inject a note of hope into this conversation. I am an artist, however slight, and I love art. I do not wish to see it remain dead, and like so many others, I have despaired of what calls itself ‘Modern Art” or “PostModernism” or whatever other title it claims. It certainly rejects any suggestion of skill. But there is DeviantArt. It’s not an ideal platform, and there are many there who are beginning, or just haven’t the ability… but there are those who do, and my word, they are capable of great beauty. Many of them have little or no formal education, which might be why they have this heart for art, as they have not been told what they must (or must not) do. Take a few moments, as you can, to look here for exemplars of art and beauty, and know that this is truly modern art, of the like you will rarely see enshrined in a gallery or museum.

They proclaim that they are breaking all the rules, but as I referenced above, they are actually following what they are told to do, by an establishment that does not tolerate individuality. “Thus Marxism begins by recognizing that, strictly speaking, individuals do not atomically exist: “the real nature of man is the totality of social relations…” (John Rothfork, 1995) Perhaps it is time to remind people that there is beauty in the world, there are objective ways to measure it, and as one of the articles I read suggested, to do a scientific study on that which is beautiful. If it were subjective, and solely dependent on our own culture and experiences, how could I look at the art of a country and culture not my own, and think, ‘my how beautiful that is’?


159 thoughts on “Who Murdered Beauty? – Cedar Sanderson

  1. Beauty is what makes life worth living. Sure, we can mill about in our day to day lives, fulfilling whatever purpose we have, but none of that makes us truly alive.

    When you ask someone to tell you about themselves, sure, they may start with what they do for a living, but when you get into the meat and potatoes of who they are, it’s about their brand of beauty. What music they listen to, what books they like to read, what movies they enjoy. Those are the things that tell you who that person is in so many ways.

    Without that beauty, we are nothing but drones, going about our days in service to some unseen queen. With beauty, we are so far beyond that as to defy description.

    1. We are not insects nor are we hive-minded, though it could be argued under certain circumstances (wink), but in general, we have free will and our choices are informed by our experiences and background and tastes.

      And yes, beauty, I think, is indeed subjective, though we don’t seem to have a problem with defining it and holding that definition up as some standard that requires adherence. Despite these “standards”, people will always view life through a unique lens. If this was not so we wouldn’t have so many architectural styles or painting techniques, etc., and I don’t think you need to be from the same culture or country to enjoy the beauty of that country or culture.

      For this reason I think beauty (and art) communicates with the soul and is not restricted by superficial boundaries, whether they be geographical, cultural or technical. It’s the same reason we are drawn to different styles of things, like music, art, clothes, even books. You can’t really repress that. Beauty is still alive and all around us, and if it truly is in the eye of the beholder, such bliss would be invaluable.

      1. I suspect there is a difference between tastes, in which I see a thing as beautiful and you do not, and an objectively beautiful thing. A sunset is beautiful. A rotten tomato is not. I am not arguing for a diktat of what is beautiful and what is not, more than there are standards, whether the modern school chooses to accept that or not.

        1. Why is a a rotten tomato not beauitiful?

          Is not life in all it’s stages and forms beautiful?

          Perception. No two people see the world the same way.

          1. It is more than perception. I can’t stop you feeling a rotting tomato is beautiful (and frankly, on a cellular level I agree with you. The microorganisms involved are lovely) but I suspect a display of them would not get many to agree (unless you display images without the smell and mess, and show the organisms). I couldn’t think of another example without being vulgar, off hand.

          2. Is not life in all it’s stages and forms beautiful?


            It may be good, it may be honorable, it may be many other things– but a thing is not beautiful simply because it is life. It may have some aspect that can be framed and polished or set so that it is beautiful, but it isn’t automatically beautiful.

            A newborn child is covered in blood and less pleasant things, usually has angry red dots and clumpy looking stuff on what hair they have– they are a miracle, a wonder, a joy, a bell rang across all creation– but that does not mean they are at that moment a delight to the senses.

            1. Chad, that sounds like a personal problem to me. Maybe you haven’t looked deep enough?

              Beauty, art it is all subjective. “Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder.”

              I “you” find something to be beautiful then “you” find it to be beautiful… period. It has meet your standard for what is beautiful. Someone else thinking it is ugly doesn’t chsnge the fact that you thought it was beautiful.

              1. Many people may find odd things “beautiful” but is it art or is it attractive wall decoration? Or is it an offensive political statement having nothing to do with either art or beauty, except in the application for a grant?

                1. Pam,

                  We do seem to be conflating two or more Ideas. That for art to be art it must also be beautiful. Can art be ungly and still be art. I’ve heard art discribed or defined as that which by design is ment to elisit am emotional response, good or bad. We seem for this post to only be defining art to that which is perceived to be beautiful. 

                  Each of us has our own understanding (standards) of what art is. What beauty and, by default, ugly is.

                  The problem is not that there is no standards; but that others want to force those around them to except their standards (morality) or perception of reality as the only correct one.

                  As long as others are not trying to break my leg or pick my pocket what they do or believe does not effect me and is none of my concern.

                  Piss Christ by most considerations probably isn’t considarded beautiful, but it does illicit an emotional response and probably most often the one intended.

                  Defining art as only that which is beautiful is a pretty limiting definition.

      2. Your position seems to assume that individual will, taste, and perspective are incompatible with objective beauty. That false premise depends on conflating beauty and people’s reactions to it.

        “I don’t think you need to be from the same culture or country to enjoy the beauty of that country or culture.”
        Indeed not. Because there is an objective and transcendent reality called “beauty” that people from all cultures respond to. That they respond differently doesn’t disprove the existence of the object, which would be necessary for pure aesthetic subjectivity.

        Yes, people are individuals. That’s part of human nature. So is our appreciation for beauty, which universally includes preferences for such things as symmetry, color, proportion, etc.

        1. Your position seems to assume that individual will, taste, and perspective are incompatible with objective beauty. That false premise depends on conflating beauty and people’s reactions to it.

          Thank you; you said it very well.

        2. “Your position seems to assume that individual will, taste, and perspective are incompatible with objective beauty. That false premise depends on conflating beauty and people’s reactions to it.”

          I didn’t say it’s incompatible. I said beauty is relative. You say there is a difference between taste and objective beauty. I say even “objective” beauty is only seen as such because enough people think it is beautiful.

          Where do you draw the line between taste and standard (objective beauty)?

          “Because there is an objective and transcendent reality called “beauty” that people from all cultures respond to.”

          I’m not saying you are wrong. After all, my comments are but my own flawed opinion, which makes this conversation very interesting, but you talk about a transcendent reality that, irrespective of people’s reactions to an object, allows for that object’s beauty to exist independantly from human response to it. A universal beauty, maybe?

          But who decides something is universally beautiful? I’m sure you’ll get enough people to say a sunrise is beautiful for it to be a majority opinion, but as a species, how do we know something is beautiful?

          1. I didn’t say it’s incompatible. I said beauty is relative. You say there is a difference between taste and objective beauty. I say even “objective” beauty is only seen as such because enough people think it is beautiful.

            That would mean that your view of beauty cannot be true if there is objective beauty.

            “Objective” isn’t determined by popularity.

            1. Fair enough, but then I never claimed true beauty. My question is rather, how do we know something is objectively beautiful? If it is not by popularity, who decides, then?

              1. Who decides that two and two is four? Or that two is less than four?

                It’s either true, or it’s not; how easy it is to figure out the truth is a different question.

                1. Maths is abstract science.

                  I don’t think “Truth” applies here. The discussion is about whether objective beauty exists. You say something is either true or it’s not, but then you say figuring out the truth is not so easy. That doesn’t make sense to me. Again, we’re back in the same place. Someone needs to proclaim something as truth before it’s recognised as such which leads back to my original questions.

                  1. Actually, I said that identifying a fact has no bearing on it being fact.

                    That’s what makes a thing objectively true, after all.

                    That a truth has to be stated to be recognized (presumably by others, and assuming they didn’t likewise figure it out themselves, unless we’re using “recognized” in a more formal manner and then the question becomes ‘by what authority’) is a third thing, also not related to if the thing is true or not.

                  2. “I don’t think ‘Truth’ applies here.”

                    Good sir, Truth is the very heart of the matter. Cedar herself made the connection between moral and aesthetic relativism.

                    Judgments can be of two types: value or preference; objective or subjective. “Murder is wrong” is an example of the former. “I like tacos” exemplifies the latter.

                    “That painting/sunset/sculpture is beautiful” is a value statement involving an objective truth claim, and “I like that painting/sunset/sculpture” is a statement of preference.

                    An argument for aesthetic agnosticism was made below, viz. if an objective standard of beauty exists, it cannot be known because human experience of beauty is strictly subjective.

                    This premise is a non-sequitur. Human subjectivity doesn’t rule out aesthetic objectivity any more than it rules out mathematical, empirical, or philosophical objectivity.

                    Not only is our experience of beauty subjective, so is our experience of everything else (i.e. perceived by a human subject). Therefore, arguing for aesthetic agnosticism based on the subjectivity of human experience necessarily applies to every single field of human knowledge. If true, it would require total intellectual agnosticism.

                    We may as well argue against intellectual certainty regarding an elephant because three blind men’s experiences of it differed.

                    Also, any argument that presumes what it tries to disprove falsifies itself through self-contradiction. Note how every argument presented here assumes the existence of beauty and takes everyone’s understanding of the concept (however limited) for granted.

                  3. Ironic that materialism murdered beauty. It is not science vs religion, but materialism vs metaphysics. (I’m told it’s possible to be an metaphysical atheist. I don’t know how it works, but I trust those who say that until I get around to examining the question.) Remember, metaphysics does not necessarily mean ghosts or miracles, but explains little things, like how mathematics (or communication) is even possible. IDEAS are not possible without metaphysics.

                    Materialists struggle with cause and effect. (Don’t believe me? Read Hume.) No wonder politics driven by it is such a wreck, no wonder they could not recognize beauty if it stabbed them in the eye. The concept repulses them, because it is a proof that cuts against their deepest solipsist fantaisies.

                    But I have always wondered. If you are a pure materialist, and you can’t prove other people even exist– even if you could communicate with them– why bother with art at all?

                    I suspect the answer is formalism. That is, ideas taken on like a coat but not really understood. So, yeah, what Sarah said.

                    Cedar– welcome to my world. This is why I can’t help but be tainted by the literary fairy. 😉 I’m convinced that only a philosophical revival will save the West. I want to make it as entertaining as possible. Uh, wish me luck! Better yet, pray. Pure entertainment for entertainment’s sake is beyond me, I think.

                    1. This was soppsed to go here:

                      As an atheist, often life still boils down into faith. There are things in this world that are unknowable.

                      Faith – The belief in something with out evidence.

                      Beauty I know it when I see it, not because I can quantify it.

                      And that is enough for me.

                    2. It would certainly explain the emotional reaction one gets when watching or reading something beautiful. I’ll say this, the post and comments made me analyse things in much more detail.

            2. I think his point is that our only means of observing art are subjective in nature, and so an objective standard of beauty would be impossible to confirm. I may be wrong; my linguistic and artistic mentalities are both on vacation today as I wrestle with code, and I’m not trying to dig them out right now.

              1. That is precisely what I mean. My apologies, I could’ve put it more succinctly. I’m still battling flu here and my brain feels like a wet cloth.

              2. Our only means of observing anything are subjective– and yet we still have to have multiple very smart folks point out that the truth isn’t determined by a majority vote. (Benedict the 16th, quoting the Venerable Sheen.)

                1. Everyone has their individual taste. Plainly, however, objective standards exist. The Golden Ratio would only be a historical curiosity if beauty had no objective component.

                  1. The Golden Ratio is the Golden Ratio, someone in this case you, Jeff, has determined that it is beautiful.

                    Can beauty exist outside of the observer?

                    1. By that argument, there is no beauty. If beauty does not exist outside of the observer, then it does not exist at all and is merely a trick of the mind, an illusion. And it cannot be debated, discussed, or even known because it is whatever we say it is and there is no truth anywhere in it, which is the very problem we have with modern ‘art’. (an unaltered burnt out jet engine that a town leadership paid 2 million dollars for is not art just because a slick talker put a fancy name on it, anymore than wishing made the emperor not naked.)

                      We may disagree on our analysis of the external standard. Our perception of it may be different, but just as a tree does not change its nature because we cannot perceive all its qualities, neither does beauty.

                    2. What is notion that we must agree on what beauty is or art to be able to talk about it or discuss it. We may never agree but we definatly can discuss it and talk about it.

                    3. Put another way; beauty is a quality… an Ideal…applied to other thing and ideas, but we should not, and thus is my opinion, confuse the ideal or the quality of the thing with the thing itself.

                      Beauty is beauty. But all of our understaning or percsptions of beauty from is an internal matter of the mind. Heather you can tell me what you think is beautiful and I can tell you what I think is beautiful, and as long as we are not lying to ourselves/delusional what we think of as beautiful is.

                    4. I didn’t say we have to agree agree for beauty to be real. What I said was that beauty must exist in an objective sense or discussion is pointless because we’re all making it up anyway. If there is no objective truth about beauty, whether we fully grasp it or not, then we may as well be arguing over drunken hallucinations or whether we are correct in our visions of our own imaginary worlds.

                      But there are effective patterns, there are things that endure and touch broad spectrums of people, we can use these things to gain insight and come closer to understanding that thing those pieces have touched, the thing we call beauty.

          2. “…how do we know something is beautiful?”

            Excellent question! The dominant assumption these days is that it’s unanswerable–the poison fruit of Hume, Kant, and Nietzsche.

            Contra post-modernism, beauty can be known as surely as the first principles of mathematics or empirical science.

            First, it’s necessary to define “beauty”. I’ve stated what it’s not, i.e. a subjective preference or taste. Instead, I will boldly identify beauty with truth–more precisely, a certain kind of truth.

            A few basic principles are needed to understand this argument. First, all humans desire the good. None choose evil for its own sake, but only when it’s mistaken for a good. Second, human will and appetite are ordered toward acquiring intellectual and sensible goods, respectively. Third, human senses and reason are basically trustworthy.

            Every human desire has a real, natural object. People get hungry for food, curious for knowledge, lonely for companionship, etc. Similarly, all people thirst for beauty, and obtaining it satisfies a deep intellectual and emotional need analogous to a hungry man consuming food.

            Now, this satisfaction admits of degrees. People can, through habit, acquire a preference for junk food, or even non-food substances like scouring powder and sawdust. But these misdirected desires don’t disprove the existence of hunger’s proper object: nourishing food.

            We can recognize the proper object of people’s thirst for beauty in much the same way we can distinguish nutritious food from junk. Look for the object that best promotes human satisfaction and flourishing within right reason.

            What kind of art best promotes human flourishing according to right reason? I contend that works of art can be judged beautiful depending on how closely they correspond the truth of the human condition.

            Works of brazen falsehood can provide satisfaction on the level of a fast food meal or drinking sea water. They are propaganda; not art.

            But works that accurately reflect reality, especially works of fiction, fulfill the basic human need to understand ourselves in relation to that reality. Stories are beautiful to the degree that they image the one Great Story.

            An artist is one who produces a work according to a standard, and that standard is truth. Otherwise, authors of fiction would all be liars.

              1. If he’s gonna start quoting dead German philosophers, I get to assemble a bushel of throwable fruit. 😉

            1. This reply and your previous one, I admit, blew me away. It made me analyse my position and I would like to show you the same respect by preparing my response carefully.

              My original premise came from an honest understanding or rather belief that because people do not always agree on what is beautiful one can therefore not claim a standard exist as claiming such still requires human input which makes it then subjective. Truth in this context is dynamic.

              However, I’ve discovered a fallacy in my approach, thanks to you, and in retrospect, those who responded to my original comment. How can I argue for subjective beauty while denouncing the independence of beauty? Beauty exists despite my awareness of it. You see, I took for granted my ability to recognise something that is aesthetically pleasing to me. That emotion or reaction that I thought was subjective goes deeper than mere preference or taste. For my personal taste to even come into play I first need to recognise beauty, and the fact that I have that ability means there is a universal truth to beauty that all humans know.

              Thus, objective beauty transcends mortal tastes and preferences.

              I’ll be honest, I’m still getting to grips with my revised understanding of objective beauty, but I think the logic is starting to make sense to me.

              1. Woelf Dietrich, you honor me, and I salute you!

                You also made me think deeply about my own position. Many thanks.

                Hope you had as much fun as I did.

            2. Stories are beautiful to the degree that they image the one Great Story.

              YES! That’s it precisely. I’ve found so few people who get this idea, let alone are able to articulate it as well as you did. But that’s exactly why some stories resonate more deeply with us than others. And I hadn’t thought of that connection before, but that’s also why some visual art is better than others: because it connects better with Truth. There are paintings that are aesthetically pleasing, but are lacking a certain something. And then there are paintings like Rembrandt’s The Return of the Prodigal Son.

  2. I think this is a plausible case and certainly the things you mention have a role in the process. I would, however, like to note an additional element that I have commented elsewhere as something I believe has a very strong responsibility as well: namely, Technique.

    The thing about the age we live in is that beauty — harmony, symmetry, palette and shape — can now be manufactured. Photoshop, cosmetic surgery, AutoTune, even 3d printing: the mere presence of beauty in a product or person is no longer reliably indicative of a natural rare wonder, or a long process of dedication and skill. Beauty has become a commodity, capable of cheap mass production or mass reproduction, and it is a basic human reflex to value what is cheap and plentiful much less than what is rare and what requires effort to produce. (One of the reasons I love the reality competition show So You Think You Can Dance more than any other is that dance is one of the few art forms that cannot be technologically enhanced in any significant way, and that still requires genuine skill and effort from its performers to deliver.)

    And most damning of all, of course, is that the commodification of beauty turns it not only into a sales product itself but something that gets cheaply deployed to sell other things. It is very hard to value beauty when your biggest exposure to much of it is as an advertising gimmick. How moved can one be by the beauty of a lovely young woman when we see dozens like her in a commercial break designed to sell us beer, and when we know that her cheekbones and curves are as much the product of liposuction, implants and surgery as of nature? How moved can one be by a delicate melody or well-crafted harmony when they keep showing up in 30-second jingles in keeping with a computer-derived formula? Who can appreciate the Mona Lisa for itself after getting inundated in a hundred snarky demotivational poster-memes using it? I agree wholeheartedly with the condemnation of the postmodern Marxism which would banish beauty as a “distraction” or a “privilege of the bourgeoisie”, but the capacity of mass production salesmanship to reduce beauty to a commodity and glut us on it is not guiltless either.

    This suspicion of market-driven technique, I think, is part of the reason why modern art considers rawness and ugliness more compelling than polished beauty: the rawness, rudeness, and ugliness are considered to be proof of passion, of honesty and sincerity, in a way that technique-produced beauty no longer is. On a larger scale, of course, this is another example of the same despair we have seen in other historical cycles and contexts, where the antagonistic is valued over the aesthetic solely because people find (usually due to accumulated disappointments and frustrations) the negative to be more plausible than the positive. It may be that it will take some real suffering to knock people out of this mode, and while that may have its positive side effects it’s hard to cheer for that possibility.

    1. Once upon a time, you could show off your wealth with Beauty because the riff-raff couldn’t afford it.

      As wealth increased, you had to resort to fashion, because the riff-raff could buy the beautiful, just not fast enough to keep up with you.

      Wealth still increased. Now they need the radical, experimental, etc — that is, the ugly — because it repels the riff-raff. and nothing else will keep them off.

      1. And now, to appreciate great art, which can be had in reproductions cheaply, you are assumed to be putting on airs. It’s not allowed to want to elevate oneself above your peers. If they are happy in the ghetto, why aren’t you?

          1. *Chokes, tears up* (Curse you, overabundance of empathy. Get back on your leash where you belong.)

            Such a well written and painful article. Thanks for the link, Mary.

    2. Like that fad a few years ago to use the putti from the “Sistine Madonna” on everything: coffee cups, cards, posters, tee-shirts, book covers, book marks . . . I can see why the museum in Dresden that owns the original got ticked. (Putti [singular “putto”] are what most people not into art history or theology call “cherubs” – the fat little baby angels.)

    3. Certainly it is more awe-inspiring to know how much skill went into the creation of a beautiful thing. On the other hand, I am not much of a fan of ‘shabby chic’ as it looks too much like a forcing of society to accept poverty and exalt it, rather than allowing one who wants to surround themselves with beauty. Beauty need not be costly, I think. But the artist does deserve to be paid something.

      1. Agreed. And the convenience by which the exaltation of “passion” over technique lowers the entry bar to the artistic world, by reducing the dedication, time and effort you have to put into practicing your medium first, is surely only coincidental, too.

        1. One thing I have learned as an artist, this last year, is that I will never be a great artist. I can do a bit, here and there, but I don’t have the time left in my life to learn like I would need to. The one media I’ve worked in for close to a decade is good… but ephemeral. In permanence? I can’t do it.

          And this is where another problem arises. They can’t stand being told they aren’t good enough, and never will be. Look at the reaction of one author to his insipid self-publishing sales. http://madgeniusclub.com/2014/06/23/self-publishers-are-reactionary-forces-of-darkness

          1. I think this is more a part of the death of beauty than we like to think. Rather than believe that they aren’t good enough to create beauty, our current artists deform the notion of beauty. Part of the “everyone gets a trophy” mindset.

    4. The industrial arts are ones I appreciate.

      I think well of a machine that produces very many nails that are extremely similar, to close tolerances.

      Mass production of images is mass production. Some thought and care is needed at some point to make any system of mass production work.

      I don’t know art, but I know what I like. I like manufacturing, I like reading, and I like some images pulled off the internet.

      1. Hmm. What you call “art” in this post I think I would call “craft,” instead: a great deal of work and skill and technique is demanded — and worthy of respect for it — but I am not sure it requires what, for lack of a better term, I would call an aesthetic vision. Art should be what you get when form goes beyond function; beautiful art is what you get when that form goes beyond the function but still incorporates it.

        1. What is elegance in engineering practice if not art?

          There are aesthetic qualities to a really well designed machine. All other things being the same, there is a difference between a machine that uses seventeen kinds of fasteners and one that uses four.

          Maybe there are accessibility issues. My understanding now is on a different level from ten or twenty years ago, and I still have an enormous amount to learn.

          I think artists can work in utilitarian and functional media.

          As for art/craft, my favorite working definition is inspired by the quote about a science being any discipline where a dullard of this generation can go beyond a genius of the last. Using that, I see kinda of a science-art continuum with craft in between. Science is more reproducible, and has more generational change. The great artists ot the past might stack up pretty well against the great artists of the present, and both do very well against the vast majority, past and present, who aren’t so good at a particular art form. A given media be more one than the others, but likely has room for the others. A given practitioner may be any combination of scientist, craftsman, and artist, or none.

    1. Wonderful link! Number 6 in the mission statement is particularly awesome:


      To repudiate the idea that development in art requires destruction of boundaries and standards, pointless emphasis on ‘newness,’ or pursuit of the bizarre and ugly as ends in themselves, and to expose as artistic fraud those works conceived only to elicit outrage.

  3. One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that the man-made things I consider most beautiful reward effort. The more you study, or listen, the more you see and hear. For example, neither Bach nor Lauridsen are easy to sing, but for different reasons. The two composers produced very different works. But the more you learn why you have a choral lift at the end of a rapid ascending or descending line in Bach (a little pause, not a breath or break, but a slight hesitation), or certain emphases and harmonies, the closer you come to understanding what the composer was trying to say, and to understanding, perhaps, why the music moves some people the way it does. In contrast, “Dust in the Wind” appeals to lots of people, but there’s nothing to dig into. I smile every time I see the picture series “Fat Cat Capsizing,” but I could spend at least half an hour just looking at Rembrandt’s “The Mennonite Preacher Anslo and his Wife.” (Which is probably why the museum put a long bench about 20 feet from the painting.)

    And then there’s the sublime, the things so overpoweringly striking that awe at the beauty can merge into discomfort and fear . . .

  4. Excellent post. I could say the very same things of poetry… and do. The worst poets right now, the ones who make fads or trends, are the professors in the Humanities. I have called them the deconstructionists for years. There are a lot of uneducated poets who are writing very beautiful forms– one in particular is the tanka.
    Here is an example of one of my poems that garnered some attention.

    In the Redwoods – a tanka

    Green tips touch blue sky
    a trunk’s red-roughened bark
    lean into your strength
    my father’s calloused fingers
    wipe the tears from my blue eyes

    The ones who are making beauty are the cowboy poets and the folks who are excited about forms. There is some good free verse out there, but you have to wade through a lot of dreck to get to it.

    1. Lovely poem, Cyn. Yes, I include poetry within the bounds of Art, along with literature. Deconstructionism is an actual school, and one that has been in the ascendance for the better part of a century. It’s sole purpose is to destroy and pull down all standards of beauty.

  5. It is always easier to destroy than to create. I can’t think of any endeavour where this doesn’t apply. Originality appears to be in short supply, as fashion, music, and art have become increasingly derrivetive. Inspiring people has been replaced by shock value – since, heaven forefend, someone should actually produce something that is only beautiful for beauty’s sake without pushing any political/social agenda.

    Far simpler to dismiss the existance of the right, the beautiful and the true than to uphold any kind of standard. That would require that people aspire to better things. Once they start to aspire, they question and begin to seek something better – and that will never do. People with aspirations are harder to manipulate; those who see nothing better, choosing to nurse their grievances both real and imagined, can be whipped into a frenzy against the latest class traitor or thought criminal to bring them back into line.

    It’s truly sad that it has come to this. Harrison Bergeron should not be taken as an instructional manual.

  6. Hey, I’m all for adding cats, LOL. I remember taking a humanities class at the local Community College back in 1985. Most of the students were younger than my ancient 27 years. As we plowed through the arts of the ages, pretty much everyone agreed that the Greek sculpture, the Dutch Masters, Rafael, Michelangelo, etc were forms of high art. Then we got in the abstract movement, which the teacher tried to promote as just as worthy as the older stuff. And the comments got heated, as students didn’t think that throwing paint on a canvas or letting your Chimp have a go at painting, or bendy pieces of metal, really compared with someone who made canvas or stone come to life. Sorry, but I felt the same way. While in Europe I toured the Vatican Museum, and in my opinion, everything there was beautiful. The same with the museums of Amsterdam, London, Paris. I had much more respect for someone who could make something real look real than someone who took LSD and transmitted their visions to canvas.

  7. I have often thought that the beauty in modern art has nothing at all to do with the actual painting or sculpture. That in fact the beauty lies in the b*llsh*t story it takes to get paid good money for that crap.

    1. Which is when I start having problems with ‘abstract’ art. When the story has to be that involved to convince you of the worth of the art… I had a teacher tell me she could convince me to like Jackson Pollack. No, she couldn’t. That is not beauty, or technical skill, or anything my toddler couldn’t create with enough canvas and paint. I’ve seen better paintings by elephants.

      1. I was informed (by a historian of modern cultural) that abstract expressionism (Pollock in particular) was pushed into the art scene as a reaction to Socialist Realism during the Red Scare of the 1950s. Since Socialist Realism was aligned with Regionalism, Grant Wood and Thomas Hart Benton were tossed (except in IA and MO). Pollock studied under Benton, and did a few Regionalist works before he turned to splatter painting. So you can blame the eeeevil Cold Warriors and Sen. Mcarthy for abstract expressionism. *skeptical look*

    2. Yes–it seems that modern art has everything to do with CONTEXT and GOODTHINK, progressing beyond “old fashioned,” “outdated” modes of thought because those do not represent progress and the nihilism of the modern world. What is created is a narrative ABOUT art, rather that art itself. It is referential art that requires explanation for the “rubes” to understand it. This means, of course, that one doesn’t actually have to make any art as long as one’s ideas are “correct.”
      Let’s drop Thomas Kinkade (America’s Painter of Light…err…lucrative promoter of Nostalgic Kitsch!) into the mix. Why all the hate? Because he didn’t have the right “back story,” or the right “reasons” backing his ideas. He wanted to make a lot of money selling art. So what he made was a product, following what the rubes valued, rather than something cutting edge, going beyond the edges of the artistic world. Since his paintings didn’t need the secret decoder ring, they weren’t art. (Note that I am not holding Kinkade’s work up as an example of good art or bad art–I’m just using him as a convenient example of an artist who refused to follow the narrative surrounding modern “high” art.)

      1. The artists I know dislike Kinkade not because he sold (they like paying their bills too) or because of his style, but because he claimed to have invented several of his distinctive techniques when they were (IIRC) several centuries old, copied from some of the key European masters. I’ve never heard them criticize his skill or his output, only his honesty. I’m not sure how much of this percolated into the general opinion, or if I just know strange people.

  8. I think there is a problem in your argument. You wrote, ” For the goal of the ones who would kill beauty is, after all, to deny the existence of “good” and “evil” in this world..” I don’t think that the goal is to deny the existence of good and evil, but to change the perception of good and evil away from a self-evident, universal (perhaps even Platonic) truth to one of relativistic truth. Here is why–if we are discussing relativism and Post Modernism, which appears as political correctness,then the folks who subscribe to the tearing down of the old standards replace them with others. Thus, good becomes “social justice,” and evil becomes “capital.” They aren’t denying the existence of good and evil, but they are changing the definitions to meet a particular brand of philosophy (hence the “opiate of the masses” rather than instruction in good and evil).

    1. Oh, they do indeed deny the existence of good and evil. Yet they cannot escape them, and do not recognize that they have merely substituted other things in their place.

      What they have done, in essence, is attempt to deny others of the right to call anything they do, “evil”, and anything anyone else does, “good”. The rest of your post is pretty accurate, but it is self-deception, rather than intentional redefinition.

  9. Many of them have little or no formal education, which might be why they have this heart for art, as they have not been told what they must (or must not) do.

    Can’t spell “heart” without “art.” 🙂

  10. Ye ghods, this brings back memories of some art courses I took at our local community college in the late 90’s. Our 2D design instructor was constantly hassling us for “non-representational” works, and was always going on and on about her “little red house” that she’d lavished hours upon. When we finally got to see it, I swear it looked like the paintings I was doing in grade school.

    I also had her for life drawing, where we were actually expected to produce something recognizable, but even then I ran afoul of her. She was always bugging us to “play” and “experiment,” but when I playfully added cat ears to one figure (yeah, I like my manga and anime), she about blew a gasket.

    I got along a lot better with the drawing instructor, who had done technical drawings and illustration. He was much more amenable to stuff that actually looked like something, and he was cool with the occasional introduction of sf-nal elements into drawings.

    Somewhere I still have most of my art from that year. One of these days I’m going to need to get my digital camera out and get pictures of it so I can get them on my website. Or at least the stuff that’s actually worth looking at, as opposed to the exercises in light and shade, etc. from which I learned a great deal, but are of no interest to anybody else.

  11. I’ve watched this for a long time, the devaluation and then mockery of beauty and the pursuit of beauty drove me out of art back in college. The elevation of sarcasm and the snide over effort and meaning sealed my departure. It’s one of the things that kept me from writing anything for public consumption for so long. I had no desire to produce what the critics declared worthy. (Still don’t.)

    One of the things I’ve seen (and mentioned before), from the inside, with several forms of art and music is technical fascination. Dedicated artists spend massive amounts of time focused on the minutiae of their craft (dirty word!), in pursuit of perfection on tiny scales and in observation of the effect of the smallest variations.

    This is natural, normal and expected. It’s good from the technical perspective.

    The problem arises when the technical becomes the point. Further reinforced when your audience becomes your peers (and those desperately wanting to be your peers) and so you craft ever more obscure, ever more minute variations of technical abstraction. All the folks right there with you in the deep study will be fascinated. A bunch of people who can’t be bothered to study that deep will emulate you. And the art form will suffer.

    We can pull up examples from painting, sculpture, photography, literature, poetry… Some of it will reflect obscure technical mastery with little/no aesthetic interest and a bunch of it will reflect no technical mastery and no aesthetic interest but will be elevated as an evolution of the form.

    It’s following yourself back up your own alimentary canal.

    So, let’s celebrate the internet! The freeform flow of ideas is bringing beauty back and I love it.

    Now, I’ll toss in a random plug for a guy I think is doing wonderful things with paint (his drawing studies are fantastic, as well): Jacob Collins

    1. It looks like this is going to be a Monday All. Day. Long.


      Clickety the little box…

    2. I think what you’re describing is exactly what happened to jazz. I love jazz (I was a swing dance instructor in a younger edition) but so much of it became nothing more than musical omphaloskepsis. I took a history of jazz class several years ago, which was awesome, but I remember writing a review of Coltrane’s irrhythmic (is so a word) and atonal Jupiter where I invoked brain bleach.
      Following on the plugging of makers of beauty, some of the Huns may appreciate the work of Jeff Brimley, though some of his best stuff is still not on the web, including my favorite: “The North American Bald Griffin” done in perfect American West style.

      1. First of all, do you have any idea how often I have to stop and go look up a word? Congrats on making that the second in a year (the other was podex osculation) and on using it in a sentence.

        Also, YES. I like some jazz, and others make me want to strangle them with their strings.

      2. Jazz is one of the forms I often use as an example. There’s a lot of technical exploration in Jazz, and some diversions into complexity and technique that fascinate practicing musicians. Best enjoyed with earplugs.

        Another is modern composers, they can wander down roads that irritate technically devoted musicians.

        1. Academic jazz is what sprang to mind. That and the choral works of Eric Whitaker. If you love music theory, they’re great explorations of tonality and timbre. If you want an accessible choral piece, they’re down there with Charles Ives.

      3. Re: Brimley.

        It tickles me pink (neither gay nor socialist 😐 ) that much of the revival of beauty in art is coming from the Western and cowboy traditions and the craft movement.

        That this gives elitist snobs gas really has nothing to do with it, promise.

          1. Ooo — I gotta get back to the computer and see those on the big screen.

            I’ve always thought finding beauty in the everyday was far more compelling than any transient attempt to intellectualize art.

            And I’d sure rather see beauty on the wall everyday than incoherent brushings with long explanations.

          2. I dislike that type of photorealism which is so obviously constructed out of photos. Painters have long worked from photos, but there’s no reason to be a clever Xerox machine. Those paintings are dead and lifeless. Why not just take photos? Where’s the artist’s take on reality? It’s buried in obsessive and meticulous reconstructions.

            1. Where’s the artist’s take on reality?

              In the choice of subject, framing, subtle evocation of mood, a certain clean reverence of material (cowboying is neither clean, nor reverent in the objective), the sharing of a beautiful natural moment and an expression of the passion the artist feels for that moment?

              How about the exploration of a life and world most people will never experience, not to mention capturing a piece of the passion the artist feels for that life, that most folks would not feel in the actual living of it?

              I’ve some familiarity of photography, as well, and I can comfortably say unadulterated photography does not capture the world as those paintings do. A good deal of artistic license is necessary to take the raw output of a camera and bring it near the real world, much less approach the idealized version of such paintings.

              …so obviously constructed out of photos.

              Do you have a basis for that pronouncement?

            2. Interesting. I find them entertaining and lovely to look at, more so than say the photos by Robert Stocklein (sp?). The skies remind me of Charlie Russell. And Cox has other, more impressionistic works, that may be more appealing. They tend to be more “painterly,” if that’s a word, a bit like Childe Hassan.

              Can I spend an hour studying a Cox painting? Not really, but I like to have them on my wall. They were “home” when I needed a reminder that there was more to life than what I was doing at the time. Vermeer, Rembrandt, Van Eych, Drürer, I could look at for hours, but they won’t fit in my apartment.

            3. That’s not an painter’s take on reality, that’s a camera’s take on reality using the same sensibility and then xeroxing it onto a canvas.

              Cox is not engaging in anything like artistic license but slavishly imitating things he has first captured in a lens, not sieved through his own imagination.

              There’s no doubt the guy’s a fantastic craftsman as a painter and I’m not surprised at his success, but so are bricklayers fantastic craftsmen. I’m not aware of any modern Western artists who don’t use photos. The difference is in how they’re used. Look at Gil Elvgren’s book of pin-ups which includes the original photos. Then you’ll understand what is merely used as reference to save time and what is a failure of the artistic imagination.

              All those paperbacks and pulps from the 40s and 50s and 60s often had artists who went on to do what Cox does; they all used photos. Mort Kuntsler, Walter Baumhofer, Tom Miller, Rafael de Soto, Bruce Minney – tons more. In fantasy Rowenna uses photos, Boris Vallejo does. It’s no knock on them. Where the knock comes in is in who leaves the least from the photo where it belongs: in the original photos. Did you really think Cox was painting that stuff out of his head? Hell, the sunset one of a guy wrangling a horse stinks of a telephoto lens. Boris Vallejo and his wife will never have to worry about their mortages- they are fantastic painters. But their painting in terms of motion, design and vision are as stiff and lifeless as Frank Frazetta’s are NOT. The Vallejos use photos. If nothing else it’s a cheap timesaver from having to use a live model.

              Painters have been tracing images projected by a lens since the 17th century. The very word “darkroom” refers to entire dark tents that would be erected and the images projected onto the back wall and canvas. That doesn’t mean they had to, but that some did. Some used grid systems and observation and never used a lens or photo tech.

              People are going to like what they like, and there’s plenty of room for everybody, but I am not impressed by Cox – quite the contrary – I find it mainstream redneckery of the worst sort, a clever paint by numbers.

              1. That’s not an painter’s take on reality, that’s a camera’s take on reality using the same sensibility and then xeroxing it onto a canvas.

                Cox is not engaging in anything like artistic license but slavishly imitating things he has first captured in a lens, not sieved through his own imagination.

                Camera’s have no take on reality, camera’s are mechanical recording devices. Any ‘take’ that exists in a photograph is a result of choices made by the person behind the camera. Denigrating something based on the existence of photography seems to indicate a lack of understanding of photography as an artistic medium or it’s influence on visual arts. We could go into a long discussion on what impact the prevalence of photography and videography have had on the visual arts, and what people ‘expect’ to see. There’s some interesting thoughts on how people look at pre- and post-photographic painting and how they respond to techniques. But let’s not.

                Not engaging in anything like artistic license, slavishly imitating things, not sieved… you’ve got a handle on the denigration aspect, I’ll give you that.

                Then you’ll understand what is merely used as reference to save time and what is a failure of the artistic imagination.

                I appreciate your concern for my understanding, and am so happy you’ve taken time to educate me. That you would humble yourself to share with me your unbounded expertise in art appreciation gives me little shivers.

                Listen, I’m with you on the people are going to like what they like bit. I’m also of the opinion that aesthetic enrichment of one’s life need not be a reflection of grand artistic heights every single time.

                So, you don’t like Cox, cool. But, how about laying off the condescending lecturing and mainstream redneckery crap? It doesn’t make me feel like you’ve shared with me your unique perspective on the situation, it makes me think you’re a dick.

                1. It is not denigrating to point out the guy is using photos in a way few “painters” do. The fact he is doing so is self-evident. Cox is overly reliant on photos. On some occasions it appears he is doing little more than transferring parts of a photo wholesale onto a canvas without even a lick of interpretation. That is not “painting” – it is a photo collage/mixed media. Frankly, I’m baffled he even makes these things because I fail to see what satisfaction he gets from it.

                  Frank Frazetta said “Copying a photograph is no accomplishment in my book. Is that what art is? I don’t think so.” Frazetta rarely used photos. Even the few times Frazetta used himself as reference (at the i09 link below) you can see the photo looks like his drawings and not the other way around. Frazetta was a genius, as far above Cox as Cox is to a beginner.


                  Norman Rockwell meticuously constructed his paintings from photos, but he took those photos with a painter’s and designer’s sensibility, and then he altered them past that.

                  Have you ever seen video of PB and James Bond poster illustrator Robert McGinnis taking photos of a model and then projecting them onto his board? He interprets them until they belong to him.

                  As an artist, compared with Frazetta, Norm Saunders, J. Allen St. John, Arthur Sarnoff, Coby Whitmore, Earl Moran and finally the incomparable Edwin Georgi, Cox is nobody from nowhere. If you want to dote on the most aggressively talented commercial American illustrator of the last century, dote on Georgi. No one even tried to do what he did.

                  1. I’m actually not interested in doting on anybody, or declaring Cox The Greatest… anything. Such a declaration would be silly and self-serving.

                    My original curiosity stemmed from your solid declaration that Cox was painting copies of photos he’d taken.

                    Do I think Cox uses reference photos? Seems likely. So? Do I think he relies on visual mechanisms largely derived from photography? Um, yeah. The style is photorealism… Do I think he’s slavishly reproducing specific photos? No, probably not. Do I think he may be compositing imagery? Sure. So?

                    Do I think noting that Cox is producing some work in a very specific style that is evocative of a particular subculture and that I believe his passion for the culture is evident in the work somehow means we ought tear the great works off the museum walls and cast them out as obsolete? *snort*

                    All your goings on about other artists and how far superior they are is in service of an intellectual constraint on aesthetic appreciation. That’s useful in a broader discussion of the development and movement of different forms and styles of art. It’s particularly useful in parsing influences and observing where the broader movements are going and where they’ve been.

                    Doesn’t do much for putting a little bit of beauty in my life, though. Beauty as I appreciate, you understand. Doesn’t matter how many people praise Picasso (nor that I understand the technical reasons behind his work), I don’t like looking at it. I’d rather hang a picture of puppies.

                    See, Cox was never presented as the next great master (rather the opposite), just as somebody that could bring a bit of beauty into somebody’s life. I agree, you don’t, no issues.

                    But if you’ve got another lecture ready, go ahead. I’m gonna go look at puppies.

                    1. So we agree Cox should be sealed in a block of plexiglass and shot into the sun. Fail is very persuasive. Tom Lovell did Dime Mystery mummy covers and Saturday Evening Post stuff at the same time. He gradually settled on western art. He was a master painter. Fail dotes on Tom Lovell.

                    2. If we’re sticking folks in plexiglass and shooting them into the sun, can I nominate some other folks? I mean, we can get to Cox, but I’ve got a few folks I’d like to bump to the head of the line…

                    3. Let’s start right here: Lorde – possibly the worst musical act in the history of mankind.

                      If you can watch this to the end you get a prize.

                  2. FailBurton… you do realize you are, saying the equivalent of ‘[Generic solid author here] isn’t worth bringing up as a good read because he can’t compare with Tolkein or Tennyson or Kipling’?

                    Art doesn’t have to be True Mastery ™ to be enjoyable and beautiful. In fact, I’d argue when it comes to the day to day grind of art, it’s the Coxes of the world that keep things turning.

                    Side note, as someone who grew up and has come back to live in cattle country, he does touch something outside of whatever references he uses. Something older than modern ranching, and far more idealistic than historical. You don’t see it or you wouldn’t be as incensed about someone daring to mention him as you are. I do see it.

                    He’s not Rembrandt but why does he have to be? That’s the other side to this. There will be far fewer Masters if there isn’t a solid base of Journeymen about them. Why does the creation of beauty have to be restricted to Masters? No, not everyone will be good enough to make a living at it. By the same token not everyone is a Master. That doesn’t mean they won’t make a living at it, nor that their contributions aren’t worthwhile and enjoyable, and worthy of mentioning.

                    I think that’s the greatest damage that has been done by equality of results. Not only does it hinder the Masters, but by insisting ‘everyone’s work is equally special!’ it hinders those who will never be Masters, but will still find joy in the art. You get people looking around going “I’m not that good and even if they say I am I’m going to be compared to THAT as an equal. I should do nothing until I can equal it.” They have destroyed the idea that you can still do good work without being a Master, as much as they have vilified the Master and raised the drek in its place. Yet, because it SOUNDS similar to what these people are prating otherwise sensible people buy in. There are people who are simply happy doing their own Christmas cards, and do it well.

                    1. [A]s someone who grew up and has come back to live in cattle country, he does touch something outside of whatever references he uses. Something older than modern ranching, and far more idealistic than historical..


                      Yes. A lot of my family comes out of farming and ranching, and I spent huge chunks of my formative years in the Texas panhandle, and traveling back and forth through ranchland.

                      One of the things I always loved about the panhandle was watching the storms moving across the landscape, so when TXRed said he got the skies right I trotted on over. And he does.

                      The ranching ideal and the evocative landscapes, the sense-memories and moments they spark, these are the things that give those paintings a value, for me, that exceeds any technical evaluation of their objective artistry.

                      In the end, that’s why I don’t believe in objective beauty, particularly. We can analyze forms and evaluate symmetry, learn the science behind how people see and evaluate their environment, observe proportions, the rule of threes, the golden rectangle… We can build a database of objectively observable criteria and evaluate everything via the database. And it’ll leave me cold.

                      Something objectively flawed will pull at something inside of me, bring something back for me, or highlight something in a way I haven’t seen…and that work will matter.

                      The masters transcend, they grab more of us and touch more of us. They give us rare and special experiences to change our lives. But the journeyman enliven the day to day and give us wonderful moments to brighten our lives. I’ll take both, thanks.

                    2. He’s good and he makes beautiful things that have a bit of the soul of what he’s showing– maybe that’s why folks who don’t know and love the life get so silly about him.

            4. Fail,

              I find the skill alone to be able to do phote realistic paintings to be beautiful. In awe sometimes of the raw talent.

              1. There’s no doubt the pure technical skill is impressive.

                One thing I’ve always found interesting about the school of Western/Civil War artists who came before Cox is the idea of having a lot of time to paint as opposed to fairly rushed deadlines. It seems there’s some ideal middle ground there where too much time and too little outside editorial input adds a certain lifelessness to the art.

                If you look at the work of Walter Baumhofer, Rafael de Soto, Tom Lovell and Mort Kuntsler, it seems to me their best work is probably their magazine work, although it is their later Western/Civil War work that makes museums. I don’t like that later work. There’s something missing, some urgency, some drama, too many brushstrokes too finely rendered.

                On a different tangent, if you look at the work of pulp cover painter Norm Saunders, there’s little doubt in my mind that had he done things like murals of farm or factory workers in his eccentric style he would’ve been considered one of America’s great artists.

                This idea of too much time too much money seems to occasionally work in film as well. It seems like the more time and money directors have the worse they do. There seems to be some ideal sweet spot between artists who are overwhelmed by having too many possibilities rather than constrained by time, money and other input. Stanley Kubrick directed a great film in Spartacus but felt so restrained by producer/star Kirk Douglas he vowed never to do that again.

                I wonder if Cox would have benefited from working in sleazy men’s magazines like Mort Kunstler did, where he had about 10 days from start to finish and had to submit sketches for approval. Considering how sleazy the magazines were, some of Kuntler’s work are masterpieces, especially the one’s he had to paint in two-color. The first two in this link were actually painted in blue and orange and not just printed two-color. That level of talent boggles my mind.


                1. Fail,

                  I like and can respect that you are passionate about this, but art and beauty is personal.

                  As another Blogger/Author pointed out to me a long time ago, We are not good at letting things just be. We need to quantify, justify and explain why we feel the things we do.

                  If a sunset moves us, isn’t enough?

                  Unless you are delusional everything you said is true about art and specific artists. It might not be true for how others see art or those same artists.

                  Art, and beauty specifically, is a construct of the mind. It takes an thinking observer to declair something beautiful.

                  A sunset is a sunset. I determine if I think it’s beautiful or not.

                  A is A.

                  A conclusion or opinion based on or about A is not A.

                  1. Listen, I’m not saying there are rules but there is such a thing as an informed opinion, consensus and aspiring to educate oneself. You can practice relativism all you want, but beyond the personal (which is certainly valid) there are things like illustration magazines, schools and whatnot. If one wants to be happy about a painting on their wall, that’s one thing. If one aspires to be the best, you start educating yourself. I couldn’t possibly count how many articles and books take the men I’ve mentioned and deconstruct their paintings, and have done so for decades. They are not doing that to Tim Cox and many others and for good reason: they’re are experts in what they do and know the real deal. If you refute the idea of a Hall of Fame and informed expertise, fine – more power to you. Trust me, I love it when I can pick up a Minney original for 3 grand while others are paying 20 for a pedantic realist duck painting.

                    Having a print you like is one thing, knowing how Sargent and Zorn influenced the commercial school of Sundblom art another, or even what that school is. You not knowing a thing is not the same thing as me being a jerk and knowing stuff is not talking down to people. Go here:


                    Note all the links to the right and visit them. No one is deconstructing Tim Cox. The reason they are not deconstructing Cox is simple: his over-reliance on photos, even to the point he’s taking his base color palette from them and worse, having one there and another here in the same painting. It’s jarring after being exposed to the greats. Cox is ferociously aggressive when it comes to replication, and just as ferociously dedicated to never being aggressive in the way Edwin Georgi was. Georgi’s contrasting brushstrokes within hair or fabric are insane. Probably his own contemporaries in the commercial art scene were shaking their heads.

                    So yes, art and beauty is personal, and then there are those steeped in the heart and soul of this, and I defer and learn from them, not dismiss them as delusional. If you like a velvet painting of Elvis in his karate suit smiling and waving while riding an albino tiger, then fine. I don’t think Illustration Magazine will be doing a piece on the invisible compositions that lead your eye from Elvis’s grin to tiger grin anytime soon, though you yourself may have a go at it.

                    There’s a reason people go to illustration schools rather than sit at home and divine illustration by sheer good taste. And there is such a thing as art appreciation, which changes and refines itself in direct relation to how much one is exposed to it. One becomes educated on the issues.

                    When I first read the SF Hall of Fame and The Hugo Winners Vol.1-3 those were people telling me “this is what’s good, this is what you should read.” One can listen or dismiss.

                    1. Fail,

                      Again all that are your opinions and conclusions. And are valid as your opinion and conclusions.

                      This is what you find beautiful and valuable.

                      Something is valuable and beautiful to you because it is valuable and beautiful to you. Your beliefe that this is so is not reliant on me believing the same.

                    2. Fail, leaving aside Josh’s arguments as he can deal with those on his own, you mentioned a couple of things in here I’d like to touch on.

                      I appreciate your passion for the work you’ve cited, I really do. I think that passion is the basis for legitimate interaction with art. The more informed the passion, the greater the interaction and the more meaning and enrichment it brings to your life.

                      I appreciate you sharing that passion, as it opens a window on someone’s — soul, if you’ll allow.

                      But — elitism rarely serves any but the elites. I’ve studied various artistic forms and movements, and spent time with people “steeped in the heart and soul” of their art. Would it surprise you to learn that some would dismiss your fascination with the illustrative works? There are deeply passionate people who would denigrate them because they’re illustrative.

                      I’ve known photographers who dismissed painting as a dead art, painters who considered photography cold, musicians who couldn’t be bothered to look at any visual work, mathematicians whose appreciation for music or painting or photography was based on mathematical form…

                      I’ve seen the aesthetic pursued by people in devastating poverty practiced in the transient and ephemeral. The yearning for beauty no less because of their absolute ignorance of anything we might call mastery. And the evocation and impact of the result no less for its distant relationship to artistic technique.

                      There’s nothing wrong with critique, comparison between schools, evaluation of impact on the greater trends in art, assessment of the historical importance of various forms and styles… Nothing at all wrong with sophisticated appreciation of art.

                      Until it’s used to denigrate another’s appreciation for the things that bring them joy. When a sophisticated understanding is used to cut and belittle outside of a serious discussion of appreciation it serves little but to establish the critic’s ‘elevation’ above someone who found simple joy in their life.

                      I’d never ask Sarah to put her degree and professional experience to use in analyzing the comments here. Not simply because it would be, of necessity, critical and detailed in the particulars, but because it would not be in the spirit of the form.

                      For all the accuracy of your ongoing critique of Cox, for all it’s relevance to recognized forms and the direction of the movements and the influences on the great artists, it’s not in the spirit of the form. Nor, in particular, in the spirit it was offered.

                      I’d throw a Cox out the window if somebody’d hand me a Mucha. Barring that necessity, I’d rather have both.

        1. Whitaker’s “Lux Arumque” was a joy – to finish and move away from, that is. Atonal, then dissonant, acapella, one of those that you hit the final resolution and want to cheer with relief. We followed it with “Holy Radiant Light” by Gretchaninov. Even without having Russian basses, it was a palate cleanser.

        2. My sister in law got her bachelor’s in composition… she could spend (and has in my hearing) an hour or more ranting about the atonal and her classmates who were so in love with it.

          1. In the 80s when I first tried college, I was going into music. AND YES– Most of the people in the program didn’t have the ear to tell the difference between composers.

  12. It doesn’t surprise me that artists push crap at people who admit up front they have no personal taste and are buying for investment. This is the same contempt designers show for their clients who will buy anything. Clothing that is uncomfortable and unwearable, houses ugly and unlivable, cars that are bizarre and unsuited to a public road. I wonder how many ever have the sudden realization they are being shown for fools?

    1. Of course not. they are wise hipsters, who have adopted something no one else ever will, so they don’t have to worry about it’s being mainstream.

      How did the hipster burn his mouth?
      He drank his coffee before it was cool.

  13. All part of a larger left wing effort to destroy all of our civilization in my opinion. See “Who Killed Homer?” by Victor Davis Hanson as well as “Rape of the Masters” by Roger Kimball. Both available on Amazon but I don’t have anyone’s affiliate code …

      1. The murdered of Homer is revealed: It was Mr. Burns in the Nuclear Power Plant with the Wrench. “Doh!”

        Puns aside, that sounds like an interesting book. I may have to check it out. Thanks for the recommendation.

  14. Who murdered Beauty? Answer: the Beast.

    Yes, I’m in a crazy mood. How did you guess? [Very Big Crazy Grin]

      1. Colonel Mustard in the Library with the Revolver.

        See, now nobody can tell me I don’t have a Clue. ;-p

        1. Well, if you actually look at the gamepiece, it’s a pepperbox, not a revolver. (Ducking carp!)

  15. Cedar, thanks for the thought provoking post, and for stimulating the comments and your replies. I am expecially caught by discussion of the commodification and mechanization of beauty as a means to sell things that aren’t really beautiful, or even necessary.

  16. My own take on the Brillo box theory of art, the “found object,” is that it meant for us to revisit the idea that our perceptions of artistic beauty should be limited to art galleries or what “experts” said was “good.”

    It’s kind of a Spock’s Eyes approach. People are going to like what they like and sometimes, yes, that is a failure of art appreciation but at other times it can be seen that identical expressions of creativity in terms of their competence weren’t being given their fair shake, were being ghettoized.

    We in genre SFF knew that Clifford Simak or Jack Vance were as good an artists as a lot of Norton’s Anthologies of Short Stories. The only difference was one of perception, the perception that says wine is more sophisticated than soda pop.

    So, the new approach was “good stuff is where you find it, not where you want it to be or where it has traditionally been found,” and I buy into that.

    When one looks at Marvel Comics covers from the mid-60s, it can be seen these were not morons making those but great designers. Take one, put it in a photo editor and change it to black and white some time, and then realize why Will Eisner and Jim Steranko looked so startlingly different. Those were the days when people were expanding their horizons and Burne Hogarth’s Tarzan comic panels were shown in the Louvre. Good stuff is good stuff, Marat or Tarzan. So, if you have an abstract interest in design, have that abstract interest – don’t pigeon-hole it.

    Marvel Comic covers were steeped in color theory that reversed out building a color illustration out of contrast and instead did what was considered hillbilly-ville: they constructed their covers from hues rather than shades.

    So, the world is full of little art galleries and it can be as trivial as a blue Capt. America trying to recede against a red background trying to come forward. It’s no coincidence some few covers by Marvel actually had a little rectangle with the words “Op Art” in it. These folks were aware.

    The concept of beauty must remain like the ping pong balls that fly around and eventually spell out BINGO.

    I think a large part of what you’re talking about has to do with the textualization and intellectualization of the visual arts, which is a completely different matter, although often conflated.

    It’s also important to note that, while museums may control the narrative, people are going to do an end around and keep painting and drawing and saying great is great and yes, a 1954 Warner Bros. cartoon is probably better than the infantile Maya Deren, no matter how many accolades she’s given. These are people who confuse sober with serious. Annie Hall is better than Star Wars on that basis alone – just because. I don’t buy that.

    1. >The only difference was one of perception, the perception
      >that says wine is more sophisticated than soda pop.

      Speaking of which, for those who enjoy a good soda, if you’re ever near Arcadia, OK on old Route 66 you should stop at Pops. Amazing selections of sodas I’d never even heard of before. I picked up Martian Soda for a couple of my local SFF friends. 🙂

  17. On Friday afternoon, I walked along the Provo river with Mom. The sun shone, the sky was blue, and the cottonwood seeds were gently snowing down. It was a scene of idyllic beauty.

  18. If you want proof of there being an objective standard of beauty, look at the fat feminist reading “The Beauty Myth” and notice the women she gets most worked up over as being traitors to their gender just for being attractive.

    If you want to see another example of trying to destroy the concept of beauty as an objective standard, look for that fat feminist again and the “Fat Acceptance” movement, the gist of which is they want the world to change their standards of beauty so that they can be considered beautiful in all their 300 lb glory.

    They hate beauty, but they still want it. Just without effort.

  19. The root of the problem, as I perceive it, is that those on the left desire fairness above all. People desiring to be free from any outside authority, and I suspect an aversion to disciplined, rational thinking that might lead to unpleasant conclusions or facts, are naturally drawn to this philosophy. When there are standards there will be those people and things that fail to measure up to those standards, and that doesn’t feel “fair”.

    Feeling is key here, as fairness is an inherently subjective term. Absent another, higher standard to measure something against, fairness has no meaning beyond a person’s feelings. Thus, if you hold to a standard that makes a progressive feel bad about him or herself, that standard is wrong, bad, and must be abandoned. Use a phrase or word that inspires negative feelings (trigger words)? Then that too is bad and must be banned from civilized conversation. We should not keep score in little league games, and everyone should get a trophy for showing up. If someone wins then someone loses, and that can hurt their self esteem. Rules are stifling, feelings are paramount. It’s only fair.

  20. A nice introduction to this blog. I have commented that we live in a post-factual world as far as discussions of public policy are concerned but hadn’t fully appreciated how much affect the relativistic school of thought had affected abstract ideals.

  21. [quote]Rudyard Kipling. 1865–

    50. The Conundrum of the Workshops

    WHEN the flush of a newborn sun fell first on Eden’s green and gold,
    Our father Adam sat under the Tree and scratched with a stick in the mold;
    And the first rude sketch that the world had seen was joy to his mighty heart,
    Till the Devil whispered behind the leaves: “It’s pretty, but is it Art?”

    Wherefore he called to his wife and fled to fashion his work anew—
    The first of his race who cared a fig for the first, most dread review;
    And he left his lore to the use of his sons—and that was a glorious gain
    When the Devil chuckled: “Is it Art?” in the ear of the branded Cain.

    They builded a tower to shiver the sky and wrench the stars apart,
    Till the Devil grunted behind the bricks: “It’s striking, but is it Art?”
    The stone was dropped by the quarry-side, and the idle derrick swung,
    While each man talked of the aims of art, and each in an alien tongue.

    They fought and they talked in the north and the south, they talked and they fought in the west,
    Till the waters rose on the jabbering land, and the poor Red Clay had rest—
    Had rest till the dank blank-canvas dawn when the dove was preened to start,
    And the Devil bubbled below the keel: “It’s human, but is it Art?”

    The tale is old as the Eden Tree—as new as the new-cut tooth—
    For each man knows ere his lip-thatch grows he is master of Art and Truth;
    And each man hears as the twilight nears, to the beat of his dying heart,
    The Devil drum on the darkened pane: “You did it, but was it Art?”

    We have learned to whittle the Eden Tree to the shape of a surplice-peg,
    We have learned to bottle our parents twain in the yolk of an addled egg,
    We know that the tail must wag the dog, as the horse is drawn by the cart;
    But the Devil whoops, as he whooped of old: “It’s clever, but is it Art?”

    When the flicker of London’s sun falls faint on the club-room’s green and gold,
    The sons of Adam sit them down and scratch with their pens in the mold—
    They scratch with their pens in the mold of their graves, and the ink and the anguish start
    When the Devil mutters behind the leaves: “It’s pretty, but is it art?”

    Now, if we could win to the Eden Tree where the four great rivers flow,
    And the wreath of Eve is red on the turf as she left it long ago,
    And if we could come when the sentry slept, and softly scurry through,
    By the favor of God we might know as much—as our father Adam knew.[/quote]

    Because someone had to do it.
    I was also tempted to post C.S. Lewis’ thoughts about a certain little green book. But I’m pretty sure that isn’t in the public domain.

  22. In the series The Western Tradition http://www.learner.org/resources/series58.html was one reason why “modern art” has taken over. In the olden days, there were “the nobles” and “the pheasants”. The nobles could prove they were nobles because they had a nobles good taste (being the only ones able to afford to). But then along came free enterprise, and the pheasants could afford art, and so soon their taste was as good as the nobles. How then to show how much better I am than the pheasants? Simple, invent new art that only us enlightened appreciate. See, only the enlightened can see the emperors new cloths. I know I am noble because I go to all the right schools where I learn (am indoctrinated) to appreciate true, modern, enlightened art. I then hang out with the in crowd and we congratulate each other on our good taste and vie with each other in showing it by buying modern art at high prices, and telling ourselves it is good because it is expensive. You just don’t appreciate it because you are inferior in taste to me. I am, therefore, a better class of person than you. I congratulate myself.

    Personally, I think there is another reason for modern art. Simple, it’s easier to make. See, to be able to draw (or any other medium) what we see takes a lot of skill and practice, and then that skill allows us to draw what we see only in our minds eye, known as art. But putting a square on a canvas and calling it art, and being backed up by well connected friends who tell others “this is art” does not take all that skill and practice. Modern art is the perfect medium for inferior artists. This is one reason why modern art is, frankly, boring, there really isn’t much there because the artist was too lazy to put much there, and/or too lazy to learn how.

    Oh, and you can actually go out and buy a book that tells you that everything in existence is just in your head. So, the author thinks all this is just imaginary? So, then they try and tell me that. But how do they know I exist? By the evidence of their senses. They then go to all the work of writing a physical book, which they send to a physical publisher, who manufactures physical books to ship to a physical bookstore so that physical people can pick it up and learn “this book does not exist”. The existence of the book proves that the author is lying, flat out, bald faced lying, to you and themselves, because if they were not, they would not have gone to all the work to make the book.

    So ‘without me the world does not exist‘, please explain how the universe has existed for almost 13.8 billion years without you in it? Please talk your mother out of believing there was a time when you did not exist. How did we ever get along without you? Just PRIDE.

    1. I’m not sure that it is a tangent as IMO it is definitely related to “Who Murdered Beauty”. IE “Fantasy” is related to “Beauty”.

      I found the article very good. [Smile]

      Oh, my humorous/crazy side has an answer to “why are dragons afraid of Americans”. That is “Dragons don’t fear any humans, they just respect the potential power of Americans and thus don’t want to annoy Americans”. [Very Big Dragon Grin]

  23. A is A.

    Beauty is Beauty or Art is Art.

    What are the quantifiable tangible wualities of Beauty that is true for all things Beautiful.

    What is Beauty?

    1. As an atheist, often life still boils down into faith. There are things in this world that are unknowable.

      Faith – The belief in something with out evidence.

      Beauty I know it when I see it, not because I can quantify it.

      And that is enough for me.

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