Summer and the Moon of Justice
Friday gratefuls: Getting a start on cleaning up the garage. Buying dope. The continental divide yesterday, hazy with wildfire smoke. Kate. Our sad birthday tomorrow. Grocery pick-up order in. The vasty deeps. The airless heights. The Rub Al Kahli. Longing. Water. Beauty. What does it mean? Simplicity. Joy.
Is this a beautiful idea? Does this idea bring me joy? My mussar practices right now. And, interesting ones. What makes an idea beautiful? According to one perspective, all things are beautiful, if we bring beauty to them, look for it until we find it. Not all ideas are beautiful. Of this, I am sure. But, some are.
A recent example for me comes from Braiding Sweetgrass and its chapter title: A Grammar of Animacy. The idea here is the Potawatomi language’s division between animacy and artifice. All things not built or made by humans are animate to the Potawatomi. This is a beautiful idea. It’s surprising. Rocks and mountains. Grass and water. Fire and wind. All part of the spirited world, the ensouled world. It’s novel. It takes me to Shinto, to Western mythology, to the Faery Faith of the Celts. It challenges my received understanding.
Beauty is a contested idea. Just ask Picasso, DuChamp, Kandinsky, DeKoonig, Rothko. Are only representational paintings beautiful? If so, what makes them so? Space, color, line. At least. No color, no pleasing line, no well-defined space, no beauty.
But. What if the primary subject of a painting was color? Think the Rothko chapel. Or, the color blooms of Morris Louis. What if it were line? Like Cy Wombly. Or, imagine a sculpture of wire, dangling from a ceiling, defining and redefining the space in which it hangs? Calder. Or, what if the primary subject of a painting deconstructed a face, a table, a tableau? Picasso. Braque.
Each of these artist’s works would have been shunned as unintelligible for most of the history of Western art. That accusation still gets thrown at them, even in this, the third millennium. Why, my kid could do THAT!
The next few weeks of mussar will focus on beauty as a middot, a character trait. Perhaps this will be the kick in the ass I’ve needed to get back into the world of art. I hope so.