Saturday, April 30, 2016

`The Sheer Beauty of It'

One occasionally meets a person without an aesthetic sense, someone who would never think to describe a landscape, a woman, an equation or a sonnet as beautiful. One pities them, but only so long they do not mistake their indifference to beauty for a philosophy. At that point they become theorists or garden-variety boors, and beyond the limits of tolerance. Cousins to the beauty-bereft are the socially aesthetic, those for whom beauty is to life as the extended pinky is to teatime. Speaking of the changes in culture that occurred late in the nineteenth century, Jacques Barzun writes in A Stroll with William James (1983):

“The triumph of art as a cult meant another change that we also take for granted: it is no longer the work, the craft, that defines the species `artist,’ but the love of art. So the critic, too, is called an artist, and the connoisseur, and the bourgeois who has seen the light and who `collects’ or `subscribes’ or `follows.’ Every educated person must take or pretend an interest in art; he or she owes it to the social self, just as formerly everyone must go to church and say family prayers.”

One need not be an aesthete in the Beardsley mode to unselfconsciously revel in beauty. Some of us go through life careening from one perception of beauty to another. We’re not blind to ugliness and horror but on most days see the world as a vast opportunity for enjoyment. On the radio Friday morning, on the way to work, I heard the Everly Brothers singing “Let It Be Me” and the third movement of Dvorak’s Violin Concerto. Marissa Skudlarek, a woman whose name I had never heard before Friday, tweeted what I’m trying to say:

“Wandering streets of Oxford composing a sonnet on Shakespeare's death. Tears in my eyes at Blackwell's Books from the sheer beauty of it.”

1 comment:

Brian said...

When I was twentyish and trying to survive my education degree, it was my lucky discovery of Jacques Barzun and Gilbert Highet that saved me from a lesser life. They gave the lie to the soulless destination my instructors had in mind for me. Yes, with a big apology to Frost, the way Barzun shook down on me, wisdom plucked from a very old tree....gave my heart a change of mood, and saved me from a life I'd have rued.