Friday, November 25, 2011

The Truth/Beauty Conundrum

In his enduring Ode to a Grecian Urn, Keats ends his poem with the lines, Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty/, That is all you know and all you need to know. However those lines are in quotes and may or may not be the urn itself speaking. In any case those words ignited almost two centuries of scholarly conversation.

When Keats celebrates the common scenes depicted on the urn he is raising the everyday to high art and a certain truth inherent in those representations. The beauty lies also in the inspired words the urn has evoked from the poet which complete the act.

Anything can be seen as true and sublime in both the natural and the made-world; behold this sunset, that saucer, the human form as replicated in nature.

All You Need To Know

Before stapled center-folds
there were photography magazines
an introduction to the female form.

My first pin-up was Edward Weston’s
nubile bell pepper with beads of perspiration
and contours writhing
daring me to see as he did

His camera made a mistress of
shells calyx sand
as skin.
I was a voyeur to the thigh of a dune
the shadow of a gull upon it.

There’s an odalisque in the bok choy
as much truth in artichoke and zucchini
as in the sinews of a Grecian urn.

Those words, Beauty and, Truth have undergone a makeover down through time. We all know that the ugly can also be true and beauty often lies. In fact the beautiful can be ugly and the ugly quite beautiful. Some have noted that there was a certain beauty about the mushroom cloud of the A-bomb. While prettified art is often hard to look at.

We might say that mathematics holds truths. That proofs are intrinsically elegant but even here the matter has been held up to question. Quantum mechanics presents us with possibilities that defied Einstein or my 8th grade math teacher who knew everything.

Since the Age of Romanticism, TRUTH seems to have been decapitated to truth. Absolutes were dethroned. The monarchy of big truth is now deconstructed into points of view, seen the way Picasso saw in his cubist paintings.

We look for the imperishable or at least what will outlive us. A music that survives the centuries. Maestro, Bard, the artist’s stroke that wakes us from our non-sensory sleep. Yet what passes for historical truth is often nothing more than the dominant power's version of it. God bless... America the Beautiful. I doubt if God plays favorites or if we can lay claim to beauty above all others in spite of our amber waves of grain.

A Terrible Beauty

Claude Monet, once you were dangerous,
now we’ve made you a cliché.
You rhyme with lily pond and footbridge.
We have measured you with coffee mugs,
devoured you as magnets and umbrellas.
You have disappeared into the familiar.
This is how we love someone to death.

Set up your easel in the plein air.
Turn from the haystacks
toward the smoggy sunset
and wings of gulls,
weighted from oil-stained waves.
Capture their cargo of fractured light
visible only with the eyes you gave us.

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