“Beauty needs a consensus, or at least the possibility.”
– Michael Freeman, The Photographer’s Mind
The concept of beauty in art is one that continues to draw my attention, I guess because much of my work explores subjects and treatments that don’t fit that term’s usual definition.
Freeman, in his (excellent!) new book, The Photographer’s Mind, begins with a lengthy discussion of beauty and it’s evolving role in contemporary art and photography. One of the points he makes is that members of a culture share a common understanding of what is beautiful. Of course, there is disagreement about whether any particular image is beautiful, hence the catchphrase “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. But when we attempt to create something of beauty, we are aiming in a general direction that we believe others will agree with. Beauty cannot exist only in the eye of the beholder.
I think this is why I sometimes get a little bored with beautiful images. They speak to culture’s conventions, they are considered beautiful for the very reason that they share common qualities with other beautiful things. Beauty is a confined space that artificially limits our free expression. Ultimately there becomes a sameness about beauty. Images that do not aim at these conventions cause us to consider them on their own merits, without benefit of ready-made criteria. There’s greater opportunity in both creating and viewing such images to experience something new.