Thanks to art critic Michael Kimmelman of the New York Times I discovered a painter yesterday. Howard Hodgkin is well known by art lovers everywhere, but is a new one for me. Maybe I need to get out more.
In language clearly animated and inspired by the works exhibited, Kimmelman labels Hodgkin a “voluptuary”, and speaks of “the ravishment of color” inspired by “emotional situations” in “the redolent fragment or vignette”. (This is why I read the New York Times. You can’t get this stuff in any other newspaper.)
The review prompted my Internet search on the artist, and my response to what I saw was similar to my response to works by Helen Frankenthaler. These artists care about beauty.
And in fact, Kimmelman touches on the subject of beauty and “how as a culture we got ourselves into a mind-set whereby beauty is suspect and elegance seems a weakness.”
I wonder about this frequently because I grew up surrounded by aesthetic standards that seem to be out of date, but have never diminished as a standard by which I consciously or subconsciously measure the world around me.
Why is beauty no longer relevant? I wonder if it has to do with a socio-political culture that equates beauty with elitism. If one admires beauty, so the thinking might go, then perhaps it assigns low value to things that do not have it. A pretty face then would be more deserving of attention and care than a homely one. It might be okay to bomb an ugly city, but a crime against humanity to bomb world heritage sites. These are scary thoughts, and justifiably unpopular in a civilized, tolerant, diverse world where beauty really is in the eye of the beholder.
But maybe we don’t study beauty as a set of esthetic principles associated with the spirit and philosophy of humanism. In that context, beauty should be a source of optimism, joy and an awareness of what separates us from other animals. That’s what it means to me.