The Scott Dialogues: Aesthetics Part I – Is Art Beautiful?

Originally published Wednesday, August 18, 2004

The following is a transcript of a conversation recorded October 8, 2002 at a diner on Clark Street in Chicago. The person who made the recording prefers to remain nameless as his or her actions may actually be deemed criminal. What you are about to read is in fact one of the many conversations involving an enigmatic individual called Scott, the entire collection being called ‘The Scott Dialogues”.

When ever possible, the person’s real name, if known through the conversation is used. Otherwise a fictitious name has been assigned to the person’s voice for sake of clarity.

Michael: I was at the North Halsted Market Days and there was this guy there selling painted sea shells with tea light candles in them. He was calling his creations art and billed himself as an artist. I know art and that wasn’t art, that was crap, which makes him a crapist at best.

Megan: Crapist? Is that your latest attempt at being clever? Michael, just because you don’t like something doesn’t mean it isn’t art.

Michael: Jesus, Megan, give me a fucking break. Why do you always question everything I say. I’m just commenting on this guy’s seashell candles.

Megan: Maybe if you weren’t such a clueless opinionated asshole I would have less reason to doubt what you say.

Michael: You get off on being a bitch.

Scott: It looks like I stumbled into another Michael-Megan fight. What is it over this time? Some person whom you don’t really care about and how much he weighs? Or is regarding the year Reagan was shot? What miserable assertion has been put forth that has created such ire and animosity?

Michael: Very funny, Scott. I was just telling Megan about this guy at a street fair who was selling crappy candles and calling it art.

Scott: It isn’t art? Out of curiosity and boredom, just how do you define art?

Megan: Yeah, how do you define it? This should be good, Scott against Michael.

Michael: I’m sure you’ll love it. What is art? Art is something that takes skill to create. Those seashell candles didn’t take any skill or creativity for that matter.

Scott: Art is, correct me if I am misstating your definition, something that requires skill and creativity?

Michael: Exactly!

Scott: Okay, that may be a viable definition. Let’s analyze it a bit.

Megan: No it isn’t. That isn’t what art is at all.

Scott: What do you think it is?

Megan: Art is beautiful. It comes from the soul and it makes you feel something or reflect on life in some meaningful way.

Scott: Quite the dilemma. Those are not necessarily mutually exclusive definitions.

Michael: Those seashells weren’t beautiful and the only thing it made me reflect on was who in hell would pay five bucks for one of these crappy candles.

Megan: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Scott: Does that mean Art is in the eye of the beholder as well?

Megan: I guess.

Scott: Then doesn’t that mean there isn’t an objective criterion for art? So when Michael says something isn’t art he is correct, by your definition.

Michael: Hah!

Megan: No. Well, maybe.

Scott: So the first question that needs to be resolved is can we define art objectively?

Michael: No. It is as you said; it is up to the viewer.

Scott: I never said that, I was just interpreting what Megan said.

Megan: It seems reasonable. If we agree beauty has something to do with art and beauty is subjective, than an element of art must be subjective.

Scott: Then we have to also ask; is beauty truly subjective?

Megan: Of course it is.

Scott: Really? Is it possible that everything has an intrinsic beauty and certain people are better skilled at seeing it than others?

Michael: That is ridiculous. Are you saying that a crushed bug on a car windshield is beautiful? You are sick.

Scott: Let’s run with my assumption for a second and use your gross example. What could be beautiful about it?

Michael: Nothing.

Megan: One less bug in the world, that’s beautiful.

Scott: Talk to me in artistic terms. Could there be a pleasant color scheme in the squashed bug guts? Think of it not as a squashed bug but as a painting, or a sculpture. Maybe even as just a shape. Can you honestly say that there isn’t some perspective that could be taken which won’t reveal something beautiful?

Megan: This is sort of like being attracted to someone who isn’t physically beautiful because you find his mind and heart beautiful. When you look at the right angle, you can find the beauty inside everything.

Scott: That is essentially what I am saying. Sometimes you may have to find a very specific angle to look at something to see the beauty, but if we believe that everything is beautiful, than we will find it.

Michael: I don’t understand why everything has to be beautiful. Why can’t things be ugly?

Scott: That is the corollary. If everything is beautiful if looked at from certain perspectives, everything is ugly as well.

Megan: Dang, that’s kind of depressing.

Scott: It isn’t depressing or uplifting, it just is. Don’t let emotional attachment to things like beauty and non-beauty cloud your thinking. What we have established is beauty is in the eye of the beholder, not because beauty is subjective but because some eyes can see the beauty that exists in certain things while other eyes lack the proper perspective to see it.

Michael: Isn’t this a cop out? Everything is beautiful; everything is ugly. That frees us from having to make distinctions or worry about comparisons.

Scott: No, it doesn’t. It just means we have to define how we are judging beauty before we make our pronouncement. For example, the beauty of a swimsuit model does not compare to the beauty of a balanced mathematic equation, but both are beautiful. The beauty of Sandra Bullock does not compare to the beauty of Hamlet. We don’t think twice about considering these things beautiful but in our minds we know we are applying different perspectives to these things to see their beauty. This is why beauty pageants set up different segments to judge beauty: poise, talent, swimsuit, and formal wear. They very well could create a different perspective, like complexion, bust size, teeth color, and disease resistance.

Megan: You’re odd.

Scott: But it is the truth. And that is what we are trying to sort out. The truth about Art. If Art is beautiful, we have determined that everything is beautiful, so if someone is squashing bugs between glass and calling it art, we know that it is at least beautiful.

Published by Sean D. Francis

Sean D. Francis is a technologist, writer, and geek. He podcasts, makes video, and dabbles in all the geeky genres including horror, sci-fi, and fantasy.