Many thanks to Blackcap for posting this compelling video lecture. It deftly encapsulates how Beauty has been banished from the modern art world--a theme that perfectly dovetails with the topic of this Web site. Everything that Mr. Burdick, the artist-lecturer, says about the suppression of beauty in visual art applies equally to the suppression of timeless beauty in female aesthetics.
A complete text of this splendid lecture is available here
. It allows us to single out certain passages that are especially trenchant.
Burdick's vignette describing how a group of teenagers were awestruck by a 19th-century painting vividly expresses the power that Beauty possesses:
Even with zero knowledge of the theories behind the modern paintings, it's obvious that there is something different on a purely visual level from the masterpieces of the past. But if it isn't realism, craftsmanship, or even theory, then what?
Walking to the 19th-century wing of the North Carolina Museum and standing before Bouguereau's masterpiece, the contrast with the works in the Modern wing is stark. What has so changed in the art world that paintings like this are no longer considered great?
As I stood there, a group of teenagers came to a stop in front of the painting and stared at it with awe. "It's, like, beautiful," one of them said in a whisper. The others nodded, actually speechless. I found this reaction extraordinary coming from a generation that is so bombarded by far more technologically flashy and risqué displays, that one might expect a nude painting from a hundred years ago to seem dull in comparison. But something had bridged the gap of time, language, and culture to strike a chord in these teens.
"It's, like, beautiful." Were there ever more profound words spoken about a work of art? Here is our answer to the one element that separates modern, theory-based art from that of the past. Almost without exception, the one element missing in the modern collections of 20th- and 21st-century art, be they abstract or representational, is something so universally pervasive in all the rest of the history of art, that its absence is rather astonishing when you step back and finally notice it.
That one element is beauty. Aesthetically pleasing, uplifting, awe-inspiring, beauty.
Those teenagers recognized it in the Bouguereau painting in an instant. They didn't need a masters degree in art history, didn't need to read the "explanation" of the painting to feel its emotional power. Aesthetic beauty, while rare, is self evident.
This is precisely the effect that images of today's most gorgeous plus-size models achieve, because they too incarnate Beauty--the timeless, feminine expression of it. Beauty is the greatest gift that humanity has been given, and to create Beauty is the noblest of human talents. How anyone could oppose Beauty is scarcely comprehensible, unless they were truly sick, truly warped in some fashion. And perhaps they are, for the works of ugliness that the modernists trumpet in lieu of beauty are often so repellent that they could only have come from a diseased mind.
In similar fashion, plus-size models clearly exhibit a look of health and vitality, while minus-size models so obviously malnourished, so emblematic of illness, that a preference for such an appearance can only signal something degenerate on the part of the pro-anorexia pushers.
The public, of course, would never accept ugliness in place of beauty, were it not indoctrinated to do so by the media and modern culture. As Burdick recounts:
A brilliant friend of mine who runs a biotech company near me went to a show of Picasso and told me that when he first saw the paintings he thought they were ridiculously amateur looking. He thought any child could do better. He certainly felt no awe or reverence for this universally regarded "master."
But then he put on the headphones for the one-hour audio tour. "After hearing all the profound issues and meanings behind the paintings," he told me, "I realized my first impressions had been wrong. I had been only looking at the paintings, which are rather silly, by themselves." After the one-hour "explanation," my friend told me he agreed that Picasso must be a genius and the paintings masterpieces.
I'm sorry, but if you don't feel anything when looking at a painting, it is a failure as a visual work of art, period. No amount of talk or theory will change that, although it certainly does take a kind of genius to brainwash people into ignoring the evidence of their own eyes!
If you have to be told that a piece of junk is art, it is just a piece of junk.
This is indeed a perfect example of modernist brainwashing. Anyone looking at a painting by Picasso
realizes that the man was a colossal fraud, but the diatribe that this viewer heard during his "audio tour" duped him into ignoring the evidence of his own eyes and accepting the propaganda, whereas his initial reaction had been the correct assessment. Likewise, anyone looking at a cadaverous straight-size model knows that she looks (a) ill and (b) ugly. But the fashion industry, through sheer repetition and hegemony, brainwashes society into accepting this ugliness as "ideal."
Another fine passage in the lecture reminds one of the arrogant statement by Alastair Macaulay (the New York Times
ballet critic who recently dubbed a painfully thin ballerina overweight) that full-figured goddesses "are no longer part of any fashionable idea of beauty." It is argument by exclusion. Just as the fashion world enforces emaciation as the only permissible standard of appearance by banishing plus-size beauty, so the modern art world only sanctions ugliness and rejects any artworks that are aesthetically pleasing:
One need only read the standard textbook titled The History of Modern Art that is used in nearly every university art department across the country to see how successful the anti-aesthetic movement has been. For a book that is 830 pages long, what is most telling is what it doesn't contain. Once you pass into the 20th century, one gets the impression from this book that there simply is no aesthetically beautiful art even being created. The title of the book might just as easily be called The History of Art's Regression to Ugliness.
Burdick quotes the lunatic catchphrase of the contemporary New York art scene: "If it's beautiful, it isn't art."
This is Orwellian doublethink. The modernists have fabricated the ultimate falsehood, the supreme lie, and passed it off as a truth. Rather, the exact opposite is the case: "If it isn't beautiful, it isn't art,"
because Beauty and Art are synonymous. Even the aesthetic of the Sublime is not the opposite of Beauty, but its complement, whereas works of ugliness are simply Degenerate Art--or more precisely, Non-Art.
Burdick refers to this mindset as the "cult of ugliness," and a better descriptor of the aesthetic of the modern fashion world, with its androgynous, corpse-like models, could hardly be found.
As Burdick notes, the film Exit Through the Gift Shop
exposes the fundamental emptiness of today's art establishment:
While filming a documentary of some of the new stars of the modern graffiti art scene, the filmmaker decides to use the promotional tricks he’s learned from these icons and make himself a famous artist. The fact that he can’t paint is no problem, since he just hires some graphic artists with scanners and Photoshop to make slight changes to other artist’s photographs and paintings to crank out the usual garbage that passes as art these days.
Creating the apropos name "Mr. Brainwash," Guetta stages a huge art show ironically titled Life is Beautiful, which he promotes with all the well-honed graffiti marketing tactics of his friends (which used to be called vandalism) and earns himself a major cover story in LA Weekly and coverage by the art critics.
We see this same scenario enacted in the fashion world, where ugly models with harsh facial features can make careers for themselves merely by stirring up "controversy" and attracting the attention of the press and the blogosphere, despite the fact that they are nowhere near as beautiful or talented as other, fuller-figured models. P.R. over substance--that too is the lesson of modern art and modern fashion.
One of Burdick's theories as to why Beauty is suppressed by the contemporary art establishment is just as persuasively applied to the fashion world:
if the artwork of the [painters of Beauty] were ever to make it into the public square, it would sweep away the pretenders in short order.
This is what really frightens the heads of the Art Establishment the most. The only shows of aesthetic beauty allowed at the major museums are ones such as Sargent, Degas, Monet, DaVinci, etc. from the pre-modern era, and it is no coincidence that they are the most popular.
Likewise, if the public ever were to see magazines filled with images of gorgeous plus-size models, it would prefer them over the pro-anorexia pubilcations like Vogue
The fashion establishment realizes this--hence it bans plus-size beauty from the pages of its glossies.
As Burdick goes on to say:
Beauty and visual truth needs no explanation, no interpreter, no cultural guardian deciding what is good and what is bad for you. Is it any surprise, then, that those who control the art establishment have banned a visual language that makes much of what they do obsolete? Beauty is the most serious threat to the power of the establishment, and it is treated as such, not by the use of force, but by a far more subtle means – by ignoring it. When you control the art museums, college art programs, media and art critics, and even the purse strings of the NEA, it is relatively easy to advance the agenda.
Their power lies in their total domination of what will be seen and heard by the wider culture. They do not stifle expression in the sense of having someone arrested, but merely by their lack of notice, they banish an entire artistic movement to invisible irrelevance - The power to ignore is their weapon and it has been wielded with devastating effect.
The individual critic or curator will object that no one tells them what to write or like, but the system itself is self-selecting. From the time you enter a university art history program, your grades, then your employment, depends on your endorsement of modern art theory. Those who object are weeded out early as anyone who has attended such art programs can attest.
Again, the situation is entirely analogous to the predicament of plus-size beauty vis-à-vis the fashion world. Because the thin supremacists control the design houses, the magazines, and the media, they set the agenda. They create the works, then critique their own productions, while suppressing and ignoring that which could subvert their hegemony--timeless feminine beauty--so the public never experiences it.
Even in plus-size modelling the same situation applies, from agents who only sign faux-plus models to clients who only book models who are on the thinnest side of plus. The public regularly complains about the lack of genuinely full-figured girls, but they never get to see them. If the clients were
to feature true plus-size goddesses, their customers would universally favour the bigger, more beautiful girls, and would demand their use from then on.* * *
In another time, the aristocracy was the mediating force between art and the public. We witnessed a rare, latter-day example of the beneficial influence of the nobility earlier this year, when Prince Charles halted the creation of a modernist monstrosity in London and promoted a more architecturally beautiful project in its place. But such instances are rare in today's world, with the aristocracy having been stripped of its culturally vital influence and power. In a nobler age than our own, the gentry shared the beauty-loving tastes of the general public and shaped the cultural landscape according to those tastes. In the absence of an aristocracy, the worst kind of artists run rampant and create whatever ugliness reflects their own resentment-driven, degenerate tastes, while the rest of society is subjected to those works, powerless to influence the cultural environment around them.
In one passage, Burdick offers a particularly eloquent comment on the significance of Beauty:
It is not hard to make something ugly. Transcendent beauty, on the other hand, is a sparse commodity, something that helps make life bearable and spurs us on to heroic efforts to rise above the horrors of life. This is why beauty has been valued for all but the last century of the history of mankind.
Little wonder, then, than the erasure of beauty--including timeless feminine beauty--from the cultural landscape has left our world in such a spiritually impoverished state. Let us hope that the efforts of Mr. Burdick and other contemporary artists who are attempting to renew the beauty tradition in art heralds an aesthetic restoration that will revive our civilization, like water flowing over a desert.
Likewise, let us hope that the Classical ideal, in the form of today's most gorgeous and authentically curvy plus-size models, flourishes in the coming decade, restoring to Western culture the feminine principle that was its motivation to greatness throughout history.
Kelsey Olson, who, with her fair complexion, golden tresses, round facial features, and soft physique, is the living embodiment of the timeless ideal, the eternal muse who has inspired heroism, love, art, and culture throughout the ages.
- The Art Renewal Centre's "Living Masters" Gallery