“Art, then, is an expression and a stimulus of this imaginative life, which is separated from actual life by the absence of responsive action. Now this responsive action implies in actual life moral responsibility. In art we have no such moral responsibility—it presents a life freed from the binding necessities of our actual existence.” Roger Fry An Essay in Aesthetics, 1909.
The other day Paul [Corio] sent me Roger Fry’s An Essay in Aesthetics (linked). He had run across it after our night out at the Tavern where the three of us (our friend Michael Zahn was also there) were discussing the nature of painting at this particular moment. Paul is wonderfully old school and vociferous in his support of Formalism and Beauty. I won’t speak for Paul, but our engaging disagreement about meaning in painting and the artist’s intent and responsibility for that meaning are at odds (maybe Paul or Michael will comment on this issue for our scanning readers). Anyway Fry’s “vintage” essay touches on many issues that we all are trying to address concerning art, imagery and meaning in our all pervasive electronic culture. I thought that maybe you folks might also find this essay interesting in your own search for art & meaning amid this Mannerist Moment.
“The perception of purposeful order and variety in an object gives us the feeling which we express by saying that it is beautiful, but when by means of sensations our emotions are aroused we demand purposeful order and variety in them also, and if this can only be brought about by the sacrifice of sensual beauty we willingly overlook its absence… Thus, there is no excuse for a china pot being ugly, there is every reason why Rembrandt’s and Degas’ pictures should be, from the purely sensual point of view, supremely and magnificently ugly.” Roger Fry, 1909.