Ugly Beauty

I just want to put down a few thoughts on beauty, and how far we can push the notion that beauty might not be what we would expect it to be.  Of course, we can conceive of a work of art that we do not currently consider to be beautiful, and foresee a time when we might think of it as beautiful, by means of a better understanding of the work itself, or of the form of art more generally.  This is the development of taste, and, it could be argued that there is such a thing as ‘good taste’.

However, could we conceive of the possibility that something we consider to be ugly, with full familiarity with the work and the genre it is situated it, might be beautiful to us?  Barth suggests that when we find beauty in revelation it will not be beauty as we expect it to be.  He has a valid concern, because beauty is wrapped up in a value judgement, such that when we say ‘this is beautiful’ we also say ‘i like this’; it would not seem to make any sense to say ‘this piece of art is beautiful but I don’t like it’.  In this beauty is different from the other transcendentals, such that we might say ‘this is good’ or this is a truthful representation’ and ‘I don’t like it’.  As such, then, beauty appears to be bound up in what we like, and thus, to call God beautiful is to say God is what we like.

Thus, Barth removes beauty from being ‘what we like’ by considering the possibility that beauty will be what we do not like.  I wonder how far we can push the notion that beauty is what we currently might call ugly.  At what point does it become meaningless to use the term ‘beauty’ when we really mean that which we consider not to be so?

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