A stencil, a sticker, a grafity! Is it art?
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder
This saying first appeared in the 3rd century BC in Greek. It didn’t appear in its current form in print until the 19th century, but in the meantime there were various written forms that expressed much the same thought. In 1588, the English dramatist John Lyly, in his Euphues and his England, wrote:
“…as neere is Fancie to Beautie, as the pricke to the Rose, as the stalke to the rynde, as the earth to the roote.”
Shakespeare expressed a similar sentiment in Love’s Labours Lost, 1588:
Good Lord Boyet, my beauty, though but mean,
Needs not the painted flourish of your praise:
Beauty is bought by judgement of the eye,
Not utter’d by base sale of chapmen’s tongues
Benjamin Franklin, in Poor Richard’s Almanack, 1741, wrote:
Beauty, like supreme dominion
Is but supported by opinion
David Hume’s Essays, Moral and Political, 1742, include:
“Beauty in things exists merely in the mind which contemplates them.”
The person who is widely credited with coining the saying in its current form is Margaret Wolfe Hungerford (née Hamilton), who wrote many books, often under the pseudonym of ‘The Duchess’. In Molly Bawn, 1878, there’s the line “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, which is the earliest citation of it that I can find in print.
Looking at 20th Century Art through the Eyes of a Physicist
About the Lecture
Physicist and art collector Walter Lewin shares his personal insights into major works of art from the first quarter of the 20th century.
Known in the hallways of building 37 for his famous art contests, Lewin succumbs to pressure from students and colleagues to give this lecture as part of an IAP event in advance of trips to the Museum of Fine Arts and the Fogg Art Museum. This talk is centered on pioneering artists whose work changed the world.
Lewin begins by providing a framework to understand pioneering art, by dispelling the myth of “beauty” in the artwork. An excerpt follows:
“At the turn of the century we’ve reached a point that beauty is no longer an issue. Now you may find some of these works beautiful, but the intention of the artists that you’ve just seen, was definitely not to paint something that was beautiful. They wanted to introduce a new way of looking at the world, and they did that in different ways. The reason why you may now find many of these works beautiful is that their new way of seeing—their new way of looking at the world which they invented has become your world—your way of seeing. Our ideas of beauty evolve. What is plain ugly a hundred years ago can now be beautiful.
And I want to show you today how in the first quarter of the 20th century, this process of removing constraints—of breaking the handcuffs of tradition—was completed in less than 25 years. It was a period that led to total artistic liberation.
If you still think that the goal of 20th century art is to create something beautiful you might as well leave now. It’s one of the greatest misconceptions of people who are not educated in art. To appreciate 20th century art you must abandon the idea of beauty. Pioneering art is a new way of looking at the world, and those works of art can be very interesting, they can sometimes be stunning, and sometimes they can knock me out, but I prefer not to use the word ‘beautiful’. It can be very confusing. The beauty of a pioneering work of art, no matter how ugly, is in the meaning.”
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