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Art and beauty

From Sonnets 2000

Let not beauty be confused with simple
Prettiness or drop-dead glamour, mixing
Ultimate loveliness with a dimple
Or a lively smile, briefly transfixing
Us with manufactured glitz. Mere neatness
Of feature, predictable symmetry,
Or a cosmetically enhanced sweetness,
Are no more than tedious coquetry.
Your beauty is a brutal intruder
In this tidy world, foiling intellect -
Not nice, or fair, or just, or good - shrewder,
And more coercive, than thought can suspect.
Its amazing strangeness gives off a sheen
That defies the mind to resist, once seen.
    From Sonnets 2000, sonnet #21

Excerpt from The Painter

At night, after dinner and a considerable quantity of wine, I pull out the sketches of April that I did a week ago on the day that it rained. The stretch of her leg, the swell of her breasts, the extension of her belly, the delicate short hair at the back of her slender neck, have the effect of an electric shock.
It may be, as people say, that there’s hardly anything in life we’d crave if we knew its true nature. But April is shapely enough to lead a saint astray.
    From The Painter: A Novel of Pursuit, page 45

Quotations on beauty

Since every age and every people have had their own form of beauty, we inevitably have ours.
    Charles Baudelaire (1845)
So-called "good taste" takes fright at all the deeper affects of art.
    Friedrich Hegel
One evening I sat Beauty on my knee and I found her bitter, and I injured her.
    Arthur Rimbaud (1871)
Art is not the application of a cannon of beauty but what the instinct and the brain can conceive beyond any canon.
    Pablo Picasso (1935)
The impulse of modern art is the desire to destroy beauty.
    Barnett Newman (1948)
I threw the bottle rack and the urinal in their faces as a challenge, and now they admire them for their aesthetic beauty.
    Marcel Duchamp (1962)
With my whole body, I taste these peaches.
    Wallace Stevens
Beauty is the mystery of life.
    Agnes Martin, (1989)
All artwork is about beauty: all positive work represents it and celebrates it. All negative art protests the lack of beauty in our lives.
    Agnes Martin (1989)
It is as though beauty were a catalyst, transforming raw grief into tranquil sadness.
    Arthur Danto (1990)
Truth and beauty live most happily amid complexity and paradox.
    Jane Hirshfield: Nine Gates, page 102
The vernacular of beauty ... remains a potent instrument for change in this civilization.
    David Hickey (1993)
Beauty creates shame.
    Vanessa Beecroft (1998)
There is something crazy in a culture in which the value of beauty becomes controversial.
    Peter Schjeldahl (1994)
With an electric brightness shared by almost no other uninvited freely-arriving perceptual event, beauty gives us a the live-in conviction of truth, as well as the perception of error.
    Elaine Scarry, On Beauty (1999)
Beauty incites the desire for truth, This is its legacy, without itself fulfilling the search for enduring certitude, beauty spurs on this search.
    Elaine Scarry, On Beauty (1999)

Hirshhorn Museum, Washington D.C. (1999)

"Regarding Beauty"

Beauty, perhaps the loftiest aspiration of Western artists throughout history has had a rough time of it in the twentieth century.
    Neal Benezra, Catalogue of Regarding Beauty (1999)
In an art world increasingly focused on global issues and social concerns, artists and critics alike have questioned beauty's efficacy and relevance for contemporary culture. Suggesting frivolity, the machinations of the art market, and a lack of seriousness and social purpose, beauty has indeed come under severe attack. The assault on beauty by the contemporary art world has left a confused and baffled art-viewing public uncertain about one of the very cornerstones of Western art and culture, namely, the pursuit of beauty.
    Neal Benezra & Olga Viso, Catalogue, Regarding Beauty (1999)
"Regarding Beauty" thinks too much. It tries to put intellectual handles on a phenomenon that suppresses intellect altogether - to the understandable horror of theorists and scholars. Beauty isn't articulate. Beauty isn't nice. Beauty isn't fair... To say that beauty is mysterious isn't enough. Beauty represents a stone wall to the thinking mind - deferential to the buzzing and gurgling body - beauty is as fluid, bright, and clear as an Indian summer afternoon.
    Peter Schjeldahl (1999)
Is beauty in the eye - and the brain and the gut - of the viewer? Sure. That's where it can do the most good. Beauty harmonizes consciousness from top to bottom. It is as organically vital as digestion. Beauty is - or ought to be - no big deal, though the lack of it is. Without regular events of beauty, we live estranged from all existence, even our own.
    Peter Schjeldahl (1999)


The Painter by Stephen Denning

The Painter

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Sonnets by Stephen Denning

Sonnets 2000

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