The curious thing about beauty, even though aestheticians have attempted to discern an objective definition, is that it seems to change just as fashions do – from culture to culture and from individual to individual. This applies as much to the artist herself as it does to the “consumer” of art.
With the advent of pop and the breaking down of the schism between art and life or “high” culture and “low” culture pre-empted by Duchamp’s incredulous “ready-mades” and declaration that anything could be art, one finds that there is no longer a traditional, classical beauty that pervades the visual arts.
It is highly questionable whether one can pinpoint a general aesthetic today as robust as say Ancient Greece or the Renaissance or an African sculptural tradition of the past. Rather things appear to be fragmented, relative and subjective. In the globalised, fast-paced world of information and technology, art offers a space to critically evaluate the status qua.
However, art itself might also be determined by the extra-aesthetic – be it scientific, religious, political, economic and so on – in which case the resultant aesthetic is not free of context in which it is born – beauty itself is thus more than simply the exterior garb. This one might term the postmodern acknowledgement that local histories rather than global, overarching truths and corresponding constructs of beauty mean that, at best, the aesthetic dimension ought not be considered the final word or rather the visual correlate of a or any system. There is thus no necessary ultimate form or conception of what is beautiful.
This liberates the artist from a particular ideological framework, just as the secularisation of the arts (from pre modern to modern…) began to override art’s association with the religious. Is art still a concern for beauty? What is beauty? Is it mere surface relationships, a harmony of form, colour, line and so on or is beauty to be found in the rather imperceptible realm of ideas? Nietzsche held that art, true art, has to do with the aestheticisation of life itself, that the pulse and rhythms and energy of life ought to be experienced or raised up as an artwork in itself – that life itself realizes an imaginative dimension. In this respect, the need for a special aesthetic category with art as the exemplary case is spurious. On the other hand, art opens doors of perceptions in the first place. Whether beauty is the correct label for such altered perception is debatable, though this debate should be fuelled by the healthy attempt to define the term – and acknowledge the inevitability of individual bias, cultural specificity and the changing landscape of the globalised shift in consciousness.
Beauty as redemption may be a lie, a veneer and surface that masks (or reveals) an ideological system bent on power and coercion. And beauty can be redemptive if it is defined in terms of a logical truth perhaps in the form of a mathematical equation or a more emotive one, like an honest smile to another. Art often sees the ugly truth. Beauty can be canonised and art its favourite emissary. But perhaps most significantly, art may offer new visions of beauty qua truth/s.
Dr Danny Shorkend
Sue Greeff is a Cape Town based artist who received her BAFA from the Michaelis School of Fine Art, UCT. She draws extensively on her experience as a mid-wife in order to create bodies of work that address the complexities of genetic modification as a result of evolving medical technology.
Her mixed-media artworks, often using latex to represent the human body and its fragility are marked with fluorescent colours to reflect the identification method of proteins. Her process involves tackling the aesthetics and quest for “ideal beauty” in relation to the human body, while posing the question, “what do we want to become?”.
Janna Prinsloo was born in Pretoria and received her BAFA from the University of Pretoria during 1998. The artist now resides in Cape Town, the homestead of her artistic practice.
Her body of work titled, Untamed Beauty focuses on the redemptive quality found within nature. A series of mixed-media paintings explore the cycles of the natural world and its seasons to illustrate a sense of cleansing and rejuvenation as nature continuously redeems itself. She also explores the processes of natural to manmade through the use of trees to reflect a dichotomy that exists between celebration and confession in a historical South Africa context.
Jess Holdengarde (b.1991) is originally from Cape Town, having recently completed her degree in Fine Art at The Michaelis School of Fine Art in 2016. She has travelled extensively and lived in the UK for a while and as such her practice evidences her complex and often fantastical navigation of the world.
Working predominantly in the medium of photography and extending into print and collage, her current body of work considers the personal subconscious, exploring the ineffable and fragmented psyche. Through a process of salvage, selection and curating, Holdengarde cuts, rips and sews narratives that become reimagined through her working.
Leila Fanner, born in California but raised in South Africa, explores a vast variety of mediums. She began with crafts such as paper-mach and making outfits for dolls and sold them at the age of 10. She studied both graphic design and watercolour painting at the Johannesburg School of the Arts and now works with painting, illustrating and surface pattern design.
This range of media exploration is translated in her abstract paintings where she navigates her relationship with the material realm. By focusing on the natural world from both a spiritual and metaphysical perspective through inspirations found in her dreams, Leila Fanner explores the idea of enthusiasm, a divine and godly form of inspiration. Therefore, the conversation of beauty within her body of work resides in the dichotomy of the physical and the spiritual, as well as the harmony that exists between the two.
Stephané Edith Conradie
Stellenbosch graduate, Stephan Conradie examines the material culture prevalent in South African neighbourhoods, particularly within so-called “coloured” communities.
By interrogating the ways in which objects manifest in the home setting and the various connotations of desirability they assimilate, her prints and mixed-media relief sculpture installations address aspirations of belonging according to the aesthetics of beauty and notions of class, while juxtaposing it with alternative narratives of historical complexities that still surface.