142: Our Capacity to See Beauty.

Thomas Mann in his novel Doktor Faustus tells the story of a composer, based mainly on Arnold Schoenberg, whom resentment drives to make a pact with the Devil. Mann’s protagonist cannot create anything new, so out of rancor sets out to “take back” Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony by writing an atonal cantata (“The Lament of Dr. Faustus”). The point of the lampoon is to destroy the listener’s ability to hear the original. The critical consensus considers Picasso’s painting originally named Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (“The Bordello at Avignon”) to be the single most influential statement in modern art. Picasso lampooned El Greco’s great work The Vision of St John, which portrays the opening of the Fifth Seal in the Book of Revelation, the resurrection of the martyrs. El Greco’s naked, resurrected martyrs become a gaggle of whores, and the arms upraised in ecstasy in the earlier painting become a blend of seduction and threat. Picasso is trying to “take back” El Greco by corrupting our capacity to see the original. By inflicting sufficient ugliness on us, the modern artists believe they will wear down our capacity to see beauty.

(Daniel P. Goldman, “Admit It, You Really Hate Modern Art,” Future Symphony Institute, 2007).

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142: Our Capacity to See Beauty.