Friday, April 10, 2009

Venus In Exile

Spent my lunch hour with Venus In Exile: The Rejection of Beauty in Twentieth-Century Art, by Wendy Steiner.
In the twentieth century, the avant-garde declared a clean break with history, but their hostility to the female subject and the beauty she symbolized had deep roots in the past. It arose from the Enlightenment notion of the sublime and from a disgust toward women and the bourgeoisie that had been building throughout the nineteenth century among increasingly disaffected artists and writers.
She has something to say about beauty:
...the judgment of beauty is not a one-way street. One discovers a valuable Other, and rises to recognize oneself in it. In doing so, one "participates" in beauty. This gratifying self-expansion produces profound generosity toward the beautiful Other in the form of compliment, infatuation, love, critical rave.
She describes the alternative aesthetic ideal:
None of this pleasurable and complex reciprocity occurs in the experience of the Kantian sublime, which was the aesthetic model for high modernism. In the sublime, as we shall see, aesthetic experience is specificially thenon-recognition of the self in the Other, for the Other is inhuman, chaotic, annihilating.
It's worth noting that the beautiful did not depart from all art, just from most critically-approved "high art".

Venus knocked at the critics' door.
"You're not wanted anymore!"
came the harsh reply.

Not wishing to starve and die,
Venus took a walk
and now she lives
where no one listens
to critics' talk.

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