JED PERL ON ART: The Beauty Trap

November 2004
New Republic;11/15/2004, Vol. 231 Issue 20, p25
The article reviews the role of beauty in art. I had no idea that beauty was out of fashion until I began to hear that it was back in fashion. The people who are rallying to the cause, whether they are Ivy League professors or curators organizing far-flung biennials, have the fervor of converts. The belligerence with which beauty--or, in the case of Rockwell, prettiness and sweetness and cuteness--has been thrust into the center of the art world as an antidote to the reign of theory masks a whopping paradox. There are few human values that theorists have found more tantalizing than beauty. This is not surprising: the struggle to define beauty is a struggle to explain some of the experiences that we hold most dear. Optimists will argue that what we are now seeing is a healthy reaction against art-world nihilism, and I would like to believe that this is so. But the kind of beauty that is such a hot topic in Chelsea these days is generally little more than a mask that artists imagine can be put on and taken off at will. That there could be art without beauty is preposterous. The artists who imagine that they can accept beauty or reject beauty have obviously never known the power that beauty wields.


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