September 28, 2014

beauty and cruelty

mark horst "the holy family no. 36" oil on canvas, 12" x 16"

But this “universal love” will be found upon examination (like most other utopian projects) to make such severe demands upon human nature that it cannot be realized, and indeed, even if it could be realized it would in fact cramp and distort man (sic), eventually ruining both him and his society. to because love is not good and natural to man (sic) but because a system constructed on a theoretical and abstract principle of love ignores certain fundamental and mysterious realities, of which we cannot be fully conscious, and the price we pay for this inattention is that our “love” in fact becomes hate. [from an introduction to “The Way of Chuang Tzu” by Thomas Merton]

Merton is writing about religious “systems” but I’m thinking about painting and drawing.

For me, Merton’s argument is also an argument for paying attention to the very specific and very individual characteristics of the figure. No two figures the same. No two faces the same. No two hands the same. Just look.

The price we pay for our failure to pay attention to individual beauty is that our looking becomes judgmental and our standard for beauty becomes an abstraction that no individual can approximate: our hunger for beauty becomes cruelty toward ourselves and others.

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