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Friday, November 27, 2009

Be Arrested by "Useless Beauty"

The other Elvis (Costello) sings of "all this useless beauty." This sort of beauty is far from useless; it's an essential human need.

This is nowhere more clearly explained than in James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

There, Joyce distinguishes proper from improper art. Improper art is "kinetic." That is, it moves the viewer in some way. Joyce says art that draws you toward it, and causes you to desire the subject of the piece, is "pornographic." That which repels you, creating fear or loathing, is "didactic."

Proper art is neither pornographic nor didactic. Rather, it holds the viewer in "aesthetic arrest."

That's what I'm talking about. The kind of art that just elicits awe. And "ahhhhh."

The thunderous opening of Beethoven's Fifth. An Impressionist painting. Michelangelo's "David."

Few of us are lucky enough to have anything in our homes that elicits such responses (recorded music, as wonderful as it is, is no substitute for the "real thing.") So essentially, I'm suggesting that you make concerts, or art museums, or sculpture gardens, a regular part of your life.

I did. In the summer of 1979 I was carrying a double load. I was a full-time student at a community college in the morning, finishing my AA degree. Simultaneously, I was a full-time student at a state university in the afternoon, starting my B.A.

In the evening, I was spent.

So I went to the Hollywood Bowl at least two nights a week, and lost myself in the dark, listening to the greats and thinking about nothing. It was a remarkably healing experience.

Put yourself under aesthetic arrest. Experience some useless beauty. Get lost in a great work of art.

You'll be happier.

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