Meaning and Beauty

August 2004

Meaning and Beauty

"The pursuit of beauty is (a) much more dangerous nonsense than the pursuit of truth or goodness, because it affords a stronger temptation to the ego. Beauty, like truth and goodness, is a quality that in one sense can be predicated by all great art, but the deliberate attempt to beautify can, in itself, only weaken the creative energy. Beauty in art is like happiness in morals: it may accompany the act, but it cannot be the goal of the act, just as one cannot ‘pursue happiness’, but only something else that may give happiness. Aiming at beauty produces at best, the attractive: the quality of beauty represented by the word loveliness, a quality which depends on the carefully restricted choice of both subject and technique. A religious painter, for instance can produce this quality only as long as churches keep commissioning Madonnas: if a church asks for a Crucifixion he must paint cruelty and horror instead."

Northrup Frye, Anatomy of Criticism, 1957

August 2004