Service and the Arts the Beautiful
For the past semester, the class has been discussing what the Arts of the Beautiful, or the Fine Arts, is. We discussed what Etienne Gilson considers to be the Fine Arts: Architecture, Statuary, Painting, Music, Dance, Poetry, and Theatre, and looked at their matter and their form. It was pointed out throughout the discussion that these arts are the Arts of the Beautiful not because of utility (Architecture), imitation (Statuary), representation (Painting), expression (Music and, possibly, Dance), or meaning (Poetry and to some extent, Theatre). These different arts are Arts of the Beautiful because they do not serve any other end but beauty. And to be beautiful, the matter of the art must be arranged in such a way so that they will be beautiful. In other words, to be an Art of the Beautiful, the thing must formally serve beauty as its end. At the same time, the artwork could also materially serve other ends, according to Gilson. An example would be architecture: one cannot separate its utility and its beauty. However, its other end, utility, does not demand much from the arrangement of its matter: you can have a really beautiful skyscraper yet at the same time, its design does not necessarily have to be plain. It can be more beautiful with the choice of its construction materials and other, but it also serves another purpose: utility. Another example would be that of poetry and theatre. The material of poetry are the words, while theatre’s are the actors, the script, and the other technical elements of it. For poetry and theatre to be beautiful, one has to arrange their elements beautifully. The end product is beautiful poetry and an excellent show for theatre. Their beauty lies not in their meaning. For Gilson, beauty does not lie in the material of the art; it lies in the arrangement of this material, the form. A poem is beautiful not because it talks about God, socially relevant topics, melancholy, or such. These may be part of the material of the poem but they are not what makes them beautiful. When we listen to poetry, we do not see the poet suffering the loss of his beloved, as in the case of Poe’s The Raven. Yes, the poem captures the feeling of melancholy but not melancholy itself. If we are experiencing melancholy itself while reading or listening to a performance of The Raven, we should not be getting pleasure from it; we should be disgusted for if the experience of melancholy is beautiful, should not we also feel pleasure when we are melancholic in real life? The poem is beautiful not because it is melancholy, but because of how the poet skillfully arranged in his chosen words in such a way so as to make us sigh in awe. For others, myself personally, the poem could make the beholder recall the experience the emotion of melancholy. And upon experiencing the poem by reading it aloud or listening to somebody reading it, the spectator cannot help but experience pleasure at listening to it. The spectator does not experience pleasure because of melancholy. Rather, the spectator experiences pleasure because the words were beautiful to listen to. One may have appreciated the rhythm of the poem, or it could simply be the experience of listening to it that one feels pleasure. Gilson, unfortunately, does not explicitly discuss how the arrangement of matter makes an artwork beautiful. Though the class discussions were helpful, one still is at a loss of words when describing the experience of an artwork and why it is beautiful. It may be because language itself is ultimately inadequate in the discussion of the beautiful, but that is no excuse. Recall the first premise: that to be an Art of the Beautiful, the thing must formally serve beauty as its end. The Form of an artwork is the arrangement of its material. By arrangement, there is the implication that the artist had a reason for making his piece that way. There is something deliberate on Edgar Allan Poe’s part when he chose the...
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