By Selywn Duke
The American Thinker’s Rick Moran recently wrote a blog piece about how some Catholics in France destroyed two of Andres Serrano’s creations, excreta that some euphemistically refer to as art. Moran opened by saying that his topic would make for lively debate among commenters, and he was right. And it has also provoked a lively response from me.
In his piece, Moran states, “Art, as we learned when growing up, is in the eye of the beholder.” Yes, most of us did learn this growing up—and we learned wrong. That is to say, unless “art” doesn’t really exist.
Now, when the eye/beholder proposition is made, let us be clear on what’s being said. If we accepted that art were simply a physical representation of something—that is, it could be beautiful, ugly, uplifting, degrading or anything at all—the truth would be plain: If it were a physical representation of a thing, it would be art. And it certainly would not be in the eye of the beholder.
But we argue about art precisely because it is defined by a more elusive quality. We are talking about a certain, more esoteric value it must have to qualify as art. And what might that be? Well, while what I’m about to explain applies to any quality, the most common answer here is “beauty.” And, of course, Moran’s proposition is a variation on the famous saying, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Yet it is an illogical statement and a very, very grave philosophical mistake. (Mr. Moran shouldn’t take this personally, as it’s a universally made mistake. It just so happens that his piece inspired me to finally address it.)
If we can rightly use the word “beauty,” a noun, it’s because the quality it describes has an existence unto itself. It is then a real thing, not simply whatever we feel it is. It’s as with a person: We wouldn’t say, “Rick Moran is in the eye of the beholder,” that he could be black, female, a turnip or whatever we fancy him to be. He has an existence unto himself; he is a real, specific entity.
Thus, as with anything, to say that beauty is in the eye—that it is relative—is to say it doesn’t exist. And if this is the case, we should dispense with the confusing terminology. We should then just call it what it is: taste. We furthermore should also accept the implications of our belief. For example, we could not then rightly label a woman beautiful; all we could really say is that we happen to like her appearance. If we’re merely talking about our feelings, we should be clear about it.
This is, of course, precisely as with the matter of moral relativism vs. Moral Truth. To say that morals are relative is to say they don’t exist; once again, we are then just talking about taste, consensus or otherwise. If “morality” has any meaning, it is only because it has an existence unto itself. And if we don’t believe this, we ought to stop fooling ourselves with water-muddying terminology such as “values.” Taste is taste is taste is taste, no matter how you dress it up with what, if the relativists were correct, could only be meaning-lending linguistic Trojan Horses.
And now I’ll take a break from the philosophy and say something about our modern “artists.” Two other things that aren’t in the eye of the beholder are the statuses “coward” and “jerk.” That is to say, I have to laugh at all these “brave artists™” who puff up their chicken chests about “tackling tradition.” Not only is bragging about a stand against tradition in an apostatic, irreverent secular age a bit like bragging about burning churches in Egypt, but also ask whose traditions they’re attacking. It’s easy to target Christians because it’s all reward and no risk: The media give you lots of attention, and you’ll taste neither the steel of political correctness’ career-rending blade nor that of those who would slowly cut your brave little head off. Want to really be courageous? Try mocking the Religion of Peace™. Come on, Serrano et al., I dare you.
I double dare you.
Really, I don’t know of any brave contemporary artists (alive, anyway). If they do exist, however, I suppose they’re the ones you don’t hear about because they get arrested for hate speech by the tolerant set.
The acceptance of the relativistic nonsense “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is precisely why we have a proliferation of garbage masquerading as art and public funding for it. And, as with morality, we ought to think matters through to their logical conclusion. There was only ever one good reason to fund art: “Good” exists, and society has a vested interest in promoting good. Thus, since beauty is a real thing that is a good, it behooves man to beautify his surroundings. As soon as we embrace the notion that beauty doesn’t exist because it’s all a matter of perspective, however, this line of reasoning collapses. We then are confronted with the proposition that we’re using tax money to promote and fund certain people’s tastes.
This would be no different from having the government promote chocolate ice cream over vanilla. And there’s a reason why we don’t see people protesting violently for cherry lollipops and against grape ones or why armies don’t face off over which spice shall be used in stew, turmeric or thyme. When we fight about things, it presupposes that there is something worth fighting for.
And if we fund something, it presupposes that there is something worth funding.
And the reason why the West no longer knows what to fund or fight for—or fear—is that it wallows in a relativistic morass of moral confusion. This is why we fund deviancy but tear down the Ten Commandments, abort children in the womb but insist they mustn’t drink soda outside of it, and promote Islam while punishing those who speak against it.
If the West wants to survive, relativism has got to go. This won’t happen any time soon, however. You see, regrettably, stupidity isn’t in the eye of the beholder, either.