The decline of beauty: Why has the concept been rejected by the art world? (Pierre d’Alancaisez, 12/18/23, The Critic)
Ask the contestants of Family Fortunes about the purpose of art, and the concept of beauty is sure to top the list. A kindergartner, likewise, would display an instinctive understanding of the word. In exhibition writing and art criticism today, however, it is as though beauty never existed. Tate wouldn’t dare describe a painting as beautiful, and any artist trying to market their work in such terms would be cast out as an amateur. To speak about beauty today is to be reactionary, without the redemption once offered by thinkers like Roger Scruton. In contemporary art discourse, the concept of beauty is essentialist and deterministic and thus of no use.
In our time of general abolition, there may be convincing arguments for the museum’s war on old ideas. But, as the critic Dave Hickey noted already in the 1990s, beauty has been out of favour in the art school for so long that hardly anyone remembers why. Yet, even now, the assault on the beautiful continues. In The Cult of Beauty at London’s Wellcome Collection, beauty has a problem: we have been “obsessed” with it for over three centuries. From Nefertiti to TikTok, the exhibition questions “the influence of morality, status, health, age, race, and gender” on the notion of beauty before dismantling it to make way for a “more inclusive” version.
It is the morality they rebel against.