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The changing nature of beauty. Stravinsky – The Rite of Spring (1914) Jazz. Jackson Pollock – Eyes in the Heat (1946). Pruitt-Igoe Before – AIA Award (1952) After – demolished (1972). For the Romantics, ‘ priority [was] given to natural beauty over the beauty of art. ’ (Osborne, 26)

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the changing nature of beauty stravinsky the rite of spring 1914 jazz
The changing nature of beauty.Stravinsky –The Rite of Spring (1914)Jazz

Jackson Pollock – Eyes in the Heat (1946)



Before – AIA Award (1952)

After – demolished (1972)


For the Romantics, ‘priority [was] given to natural beauty over the beauty of art.’ (Osborne, 26)

The artist was inspired, not by some external force that channeled through him, but by the unconscious part of his own being.

“The word ‘unconsciousness’ was used in the literature of the Romantics well before it entered into formal psychology. It was used by Wordsworth. Carlyle, distinguishing between artificial and natural, or inspired poetry, said: ‘The artificial is the conscious, mechanical; the natural is unconscious, dynamic.’ And he says: ‘Unconsciousness is the sign of creation; consciousness at best that of manufacture” (Osborne, 1968:139)

2. How is nature beautiful?

Joseph Mallord William TurnerThe Junction of the Thames and the Medway, 1807Widener Collection


3. Is beauty in the object itself (objective) or in our perception of the object (subjective)?

Does it relate, then, to an analysis of the object’s organization, composition? (this, of course, rarely relates to natural objects. We cannot talk about the composition of the sunset.)

Or, does it relate to our appreciation of it – in other words, the emotions that we bring to it?

Further, what is that object? Consider a play or a piece of music. In what way are these objects at all? Each of these ‘works of art’ require the interpretation not only of the audience but of the director or the conductor, the actors or musicians who themselves interpret the words or notes of the ‘artist’. In such cases, of course, the ‘art object’– the play or symphony – will be different every time it is performed. So, just what is consistently being perceived that we can then refer to it as a ‘work of art’?


Can an object of beauty be separated from its utility?

  • “Buildings create and perpetuate environments for social interaction. In this, they are more similar to bodies of law than to paintings. And although one might scruple to condemn a still life on moral grounds, such legal acts as the fugitive slave law are readily censured. Why not, then, the plantation architecture that was as integral a part of slavery as the laws supporting it? We have been taught to hesitate on the grounds that art is somehow above moral judgment – a modern view that would have sounded as strange to ancient ears as its contrary does now.” (Stephen Kurtz, Wasteland, pg. 5)
This same argument can be applied to architecture that fails to meet standards of sustainability ( like a gas guzzling car).

Learning from Las Vegas is an example of this kind of divorced thinking.

Is it possible even to look at these things both formally and socially and, on the one hand, call it beautiful and, on the other, reprehensible?

The Greeks did not separate ‘art’ from its utility. They considered works of art ‘as artefacts made for a purpose. They are regarded as successful according to their effectiveness for their purpose . . .” (Osborne, 1969:15) The discussion of the arts related more “to their educational function and their social impact. . . .Was a work of art effective for its purpose and was the purpose a good one?” Of these two questions, the latter was more important. In this, the Greeks were followed by the Marxists in their assessment of artistic activity being subordinated by social value.

Under such circumstances does ‘fine art’ become trivialized? What social value does a Beethoven quartet have? A poem? If we can’t elicit some social value out of it, is it meaningless?

The notion of beauty being related to its utility or function was, of course, taken up later by the American sculptor, Horatio Greenough who spoke of the relation of form to function. This notion was echoed by the American architect Louis Sullivan who originated the famous phrase: “Form follows function”. Le Corbusier’s variation on that theme was that the house was a ‘machine for living in’.

However, as Herbert Read pointed out in 1934, ‘the mistake is to assume that the functional efficiency is the cause of beauty; because functional, therefore beautiful. That is not the true logic of the case.’

5. What is the difference between the pleasures of the senses and aesthetic pleasure?

In the former, says Santayana, we gratify our senses and passions. In the contemplation of beauty we are raised above ourselves (p. 24).

  • Sensory values – generated by pleasurable sensations. The higher senses (sight and hearing) are more important to the aesthetic appreciation of an environment
  • Formal values – the order of sensory material – structure, patterns
  • Expression or associational values – aesthetic practical and negative.
6. Can we define ‘beautiful’ as that which brings us closer to the sacred? To the mystical?
  • Plotinus – the beauty of art and nature is a manifestation of the unity of being.
  • Plotinus ascends from the unity of individual souls to the unity of the general or world soul, and from that to the intellect thinking itself. Ultimately all dualities of knowing and known, subject and object, are overcome by the self-identity of the self-reflective thought. It is to this wholeness that all orders of creation aspire, and from it that all have been created.
  • Clearly this concerns more than analysis of composition. Beauty then could be seen to achieve at least two things:
  • To understand or perceive the world in a new and enriched way
  • To move us outside ourselves
  • That concept can lead us in two directions:
  • The relationship between the beautiful and the good – the path of architectural determinism
  • The relationship between the beautiful and the sacred – the discussion of sacred places