SOME KIND OF BEAUTIFUL

May 26, 2017
Storm King Wavefield, by Maya Lin, Storm King Art Center, New Windsor, New York (2009, photo from stormking.org)

Storm King Wavefield, by Maya Lin, Storm King Art Center, New Windsor, New York (2009, photo from stormking.org)

What is beauty? How is it defined, described, discussed, deconstructed?

Looking at personal favorites, I ponder four themes of beauty: 1) man-made, 2) God-made, 3) the Grotesque, and 4) the ethereal.

1) BY MAN OR WOMAN

One category of beauty is that made by the hands of a person. And its beauty can be at any size and complexity—from a gourmet delicacy to twisted steel beams six stories high.

Sushi at Urasawa, Los Angeles (photo from tomostyle.wordpress.com)
Sushi at Urasawa, Los Angeles (photo from tomostyle.wordpress.com)

I love the artistry in making sushi. Not only is the result visually appealing, but sushi’s beauty is also temporal. The creations exist as beautiful for only a brief moment, as the juices soak for too long and discolor the creation, as the temperature changes how the food glistens.

South Field sculptures, by Mark Di Suvero, Storm King Art Center, New Windsor, New York (1969 to 1998, photo from whattododigital.com)
South Field sculptures, by Mark Di Suvero, Storm King Art Center, New Windsor, New York (1969 to 1998, photo from whattododigital.com)

One of my favorite places on the planet is the 500-acre art park known as Storm King in Upstate New York. With immense scale, the sculptural installations are profound. No longer inhibited by the walls of a gallery, the sky is literally the limit. Art’s beauty reaches up, out or down, and does so more ambitiously than ever before.

Storm King Wall by Andy Goldsworthy, Storm King Art Center, New Windsor, New York (1998, photo from stormking.org)
Storm King Wall by Andy Goldsworthy, Storm King Art Center, New Windsor, New York (1998, photo from stormking.org)

2) BY NATURE

Mother Nature has delivered some of the most beautiful things in the world.

left: Devils Postpile National Monument, Mammoth Lakes, California (photo by Wally Pacholka); right: Hexagonal tops of the postpile columns (photo by Jerrye and Roy Klotz)
left: Devils Postpile National Monument, Mammoth Lakes, California (photo by Wally Pacholka); right: Hexagonal tops of the postpile columns (photo by Jerrye and Roy Klotz)

I favor the natural stone formation known as Devils Postpile. Basalt formations create hexagonal columns that start deep in the Earth and reveal their natural engineering at the surface. The beauty and structural logic of the hexagon is prevalent throughout nature.

Natural hexagonal structural logic (photo from aetherforce.com)
Natural hexagonal structural logic (photo from aetherforce.com)

3) THE GROTESQUE

left: Afghan Girl, by Steve McCurry (1984); right: Untitled #359, by Cindy Sherman (2000)
left: Afghan Girl, by Steve McCurry (1984); right: Untitled #359, by Cindy Sherman (2000)

Beauty can be obviously beautiful or not so obvious. Perhaps beauty does not have to be pretty and attractive, but rather, sublime.

The Steve McCurry portrait is universally considered to be one of the definitive portraits in history, akin to the Mona Lisa. Yes, McCurry’s work is exquisite. But I argue that photographer/artist Cindy Sherman has also captured beauty, but in her signature bizarre and deformed visions.

left: Scarlett Johansson and Keira Knightly, by Annie Leibovitz (2006); Greer and Robert on the Bed, by Nan Goldin (1982)
left: Scarlett Johansson and Keira Knightly, by Annie Leibovitz (2006); Greer and Robert on the Bed, by Nan Goldin (1982)

Countering the classical beauty of portraits by Annie Leibovitz, Nan Goldin’s work presents hypnotic, even frightening images of her friends. Starting as a raw, stark and intimate look into the life of the gay subculture of the 70’s and 80’s in New York City, Goldin’s “look” is later commercialized, nearly made trite. Even called beautiful, “Heroic Chic” arrives to the world of fashion photography.

See more on the Grotesque and architecture.

left: Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor, Opus 57, the “Appassionata,” by Ludwig van Beethoven (1805); Bud Powell (photo from thejazzlabels.com)
left: Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor, Opus 57, the “Appassionata,” by Ludwig van Beethoven (1805); Bud Powell (photo from thejazzlabels.com)
Lily (photo by Anthony Poon)
Lily (photo by Anthony Poon)

4) THE ETHEREAL

How do we defined the aural beauty in music and its ethereal qualities? Both the music of Beethoven and Bud Powell have been described as beautiful and Grotesque, with its poetic lyricism alongside jarring rhythms and discordant harmonies.

Lastly, this portrait too is beautiful. Ethereally.

© Poon Design Inc.