Beauty Isn’t Dead, Though Not for Lack of Trying

Monday , 18, September 2017 22 Comments

Beauty.

When did “fun” become a four-letter word? When did “excitement” become something to sneer at? When did pleasing the audience become despised as the font of all evil?

(Don’t answer. I don’t care. That’s not the point.)

Entertainment—now follow me here, because the argument gets a little labyrinthine—entertainment is meant to ENTERTAIN. It’s meant to whisk the audience away to another world in their minds, to take their attention off the very real problems that plague their lives, to give them respite from the burdens of this fallen world. That is a HOLY mission. It is an act of mercy, an act of charity. Like buying a poor kid an ice cream cone, it is an act of kindness that makes someone’s life a little bit better. Only with a book or comic, you can lift the spirits of THOUSANDS.

I cannot overstate my contempt for the notion that “escapism” is something dirty and worthless, the least of all creative endeavors. That is purest horsedung, the Platonic form of horsedung, the primal source of horsedung from which all other horsedung emerges.

Escapism, as a goal, is not the least of artistic endeavors: it is among the greatest. There is but one that stands higher: the quest for beauty.

I’ve ranted about this lately, first on Twitter and again on the Geek Gab podcast, and apparently I haven’t got it out of my system because I feel another one coming on.

Modern society hates beauty.

We debase beauty, using the wonder of the female form to provoke lust, we mock beauty, calling things beautiful that clearly aren’t, and parody beauty, using all our arts to create that which is ugly, which debases, which coarsens and corrupts. We are a fallen culture, in whom the love of beauty has (among our intelligentsia, artists, and much of the population) been replaced by a love of the ugly, the repellent, and the perverse. Wherever beauty can be found, we mar it, destroy it, or secret it away so even the very memory of that which is beautiful is lost forever.

Beauty enlightens, it inspires, it uplifts. It can be a stunning dance piece, a soaring musical composition, a captivating portrait, a glorious work of architecture, an arresting sculpture, or a piece of fiction so true and exquisite it moves one to tears.

Above all, beauty evokes awe, that quiet, still, yet all-penetrating silence of the soul. Awe is reverence and wonder, a recognition that there are things that transcend this muddy world of toil and pain, that there are greater things than these which surround us, that we are meant for more than just the bitter struggle to survive. Awe connects us with the transcendent, with the infinite, with the divine. In moments of awe, even non-believers sense the presence of something greater than themselves.

Which is why the wretches and brutes MUST destroy beauty, must destroy that which is beautiful and must destroy even our ability to discern what is truly beautiful. Without beauty, men become brutes and wretches like them, and that is an outcome devoutly to be desired by the wretched and brutal.

Wretches rule traditional publishing, music, movies, and TV, and comic books. They have utterly obliterated the art world, and erected a grim parody of it on the ground where once it stood. Their tendrils run through every art school, department of philosophy, and College of Humanities in the entire Western world. Even many churches have succumbed. Beauty can scarce be found anywhere, and even the love of beauty is fading as we begin to love that which is—to put it mildly—not beautiful at all.

It need not be so.

We can create beautiful works. We can foster beauty. We can seek after it, and champion it. We can be its preservers, its protectors, its advocates. We can make beauty, and embed it in our art, and smuggle it out into the world, to brighten the lives of others.

It is a great and noble thing to entertain others. It is a greater thing to craft something of great beauty, that provokes awe in all who behold it. But to do both, well… as an entertainer, author, or artist, this one thing is greatest of all.


Jasyn Jones, better known as Daddy Warpig, is a host on the Geek Gab podcast, a regular on the Superversive SF livestreams, and blogs at Daddy Warpig’s House of Geekery. Check him out on Twitter.

22 Comments
  • H.P. says:

    The Economist on Robert Conquest: “He despised much modern literary criticism: it used ‘important’ freely but shunned ‘beautiful.'”

  • Terry Sanders says:

    Once upon a time I was on a city bus, looked up, and saw the most beautiful woman in the world.

    At least I haven’t seen anyone to match her, before or since.

    And, for a moment, I had the desperate desire to be–

    Rembrandt.

    Don Juan? Byron? I laugh. I didn’t want to *possess* her. I didn’t even want the world to know what feelings she stirred in me. Come to think of it, the only feeling she stirred in me was fascination. Perhaps awe.

    No. I wanted to share that beauty with the world, and it hurt to know I couldn’t.

    Obviously, I am not suited to modern day existence…

  • Ostar says:

    Tolkien on Escapism: ” Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls?”

    Our erstwhile jailers can’t let the people experience beauty, because they know they can’t create it. Our erstwhile jailers would lose all their power and influence over those who knew what they were missing, and sought it instead of the trash currently forced upon them.

  • Henry says:

    I experience reality, in all its nasty glory, for free every day. Why would I want to pay good money, earned by enduring that reality each day, to experience reality in my entertainment?

  • JonM says:

    “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
    Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”
    -Keats

    A population incapable of recognizing beauty is incapable of recognizing truth. As a people lose their ability to recognize beauty, they lose their ability to recognize when they are being lied to as. As such, they become sheep far more docile as they are led to the slaughter.

  • Only jailers have a problem with escapism.

  • I have been working on an essay on metaesthetics and I am becoming increasingly convinced that the Nature of Beauty is one of the truly deep questions of philosophy.

  • Arlan Andrews, Sr. says:

    As a youngster, I came across Erskine Caldwell stories and was intrigued by them–they were about real people, many just like the ones I knew in rural Arkansas where I spent much of my early years. But after a while, I wondered why I would want to read about ordinary life when Heinlein, Bradbury, Asimov, Clarke, Simak, Anderson, and others, were offering me new worlds and a new future, one I might even help build.

    So I wandered into Winder and never looked back.

  • Arlan Andrews, Sr. says:

    Typo: “Wonder”, not “Winder”

  • Ron Van Wegen says:

    I think a discussion might be needed about the idea that, “Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder”. I’ll start. If a person sees a sunrise and states that it is ugly, is he sane? I would say no.

    • Blume says:

      They might just live in LA but then I have heard Californians say that the smog used to enhance the sunrise so I would think that gives more credence to your insanity theory.

    • Xavier Basora says:

      But there’s been countless cross cultural studies that have concluded that objective beauty exists among very different cultures.
      We’ll need to take up CS Lewis’ point that no culture has ever looked cowardice, robbery, murder. It’s the same with beauty.

      xavier

    • Frank Luke says:

      To paraphrase John Wright on subjective beauty, “Some prefer blondes, others like redheads. This is true. However, disfigured lepers never win beauty contests.”

  • J. Manfred Weichsel says:

    This is a wonderful essay. Some of your ideas remind me of the “beauty” section of Edmond Burke’s famous philosophical treatise: http://www.bartleby.com/24/2/

  • Tesh says:

    I find value in beauty. I find it much harder to make a living trying to produce it because others do not value beauty.

    I find it disheartening that those who should be my allies look down on mediums like games or comics that can allow great beauty, because the mediums have been infested with filth. I find it sad that so many look down on escapism and imagination as something somehow unenlightened and not only valueless, but destructive.

    I live in interesting times.

  • kᴴᶻ says:

    You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could, and before you even knew what you had, you patented it, and packaged it, and slapped it on a plastic lunchbox, and now (*bangs on the table*) you’re selling it, you wanna sell it.

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