The Flight from Beauty

Qualities that previously denoted aesthetic failure are now cited as marks of success; while the pursuit of beauty is often regarded as a retreat from the real task of artistic creation, which is to challenge orthodoxy and to break free from conventional constraints. Arthur Danto has even argued that beauty is both deceptive as a goal and in some way antipathetic to the mission of modern art. (The Abuse of Beauty.)

The repudiation of beauty derives from a particular vision of modern art and its history. According to many critics writing today a work of art justifies itself by announcing itself as a visitor from the future. It does not matter that some people regard new works as empty, ugly or pornographic. The value of art is a shock value: art exists to awaken us to our historical predicament and to remind us of the ceaseless change which is the only permanent thing in human nature .

This vision of art feeds on a one-sided diet of examples. In painting we a...

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