"The whole point about art is that it transcends the artist; that's why and how it works, that's why we can understand great art that is centuries or millennia old. But the contemporary imagination is affronted by anything that transcends the contemporary. It is affronted, in particular, by beauty"--Bryan Appleyard."But is beauty anything on its own? Is aesthetic judgment at all legitimate? Do we express anything more than a purely personal opinion when we judge that something is beautiful or aesthetically valuable?"--Alexander Nehamas"What happens to us when something— something we see for the first time or have perhaps known for long— reveals its beauty to us, and, suddenly transfigured, takes our breath away and makes time stand still?"--Alexander Nehamas[pdf].Mr Nehamas asks questions I have no answers to, though I talk of things being beautiful. He attempts to answer them, and though his answers resonate with me, I don't know that I understand his answers completely. What do we talk of when we talk of beauty?
"If we ask ourselves, today, whether beauty exists in the rainstorm or the man at the window, whether it is in the stained glass at Chartres or the minds of the people below, we answer yes four times. If we ask whether our experience of beauty is intimate and known only to ourselves, we feel certain that it is; if we then ask whether we share it with other people, we feel certain that we do. We believe that some works of art are greater, or deeper, or truer than other works of art, in a way that goes beyond our private reactions to them; and yet we know that the principles that make them so are impossible to define. Obviously these positions cannot all be accurate. But in our lived aesthetic experience they appear so completely and so naturally twined together that we can hardly begin to separate them. They are all instinctively present to us, and since losing any one of them would diminish our experience of beauty, we need some way to maintain them all."No less than in the eighteenth century, then, we are trapped behind unanswerable questions; and no less than in that time, we rely on ideas like taste to set us gently free. For as we use the word today, taste rather wonderfully seems to assume that all these possibilities can be true—but true flexibly, true in changing ratios, and thus true with a kind of modesty that allows each separate meaning to retreat in circumstances where it does not apply. It is because of this modesty that we can sustain the idea of 'good taste,' with its suggestion of a shared standard of value, at the same time as we declare that there is 'no disputing about taste,' thus effectively denying that such a standard exists; and can do so, moreover, with the sense that taste in the one case is the sibling of taste in the other, that they share the same root system, so to speak. And it is because of our ability to sustain this sense that we are able to speak of beauty as though it existed outside us (which is still, after all, the normal way to speak about beauty), even as we cherish our own deep predilections"--Brian Phillips, "Poetry and the Problem of Taste", Poetry, September 2007.
"Works of art, like jokes, have a function. They are objects of aesthetic interest. They may fulfill this function in a rewarding way, offering food for thought and spiritual uplift, winning for themselves a loyal public that returns to them to be consoled or inspired. They may fulfill their function in ways that are judged to be offensive or downright demeaning. Or they may fail altogether to prompt the aesthetic interest that they are petitioning for."THE WORKS OF ART that we remember fall into the first two categories: the uplifting and the demeaning. The total failures disappear from public memory. And it really matters which kind of art you adhere to, which you include in your treasury of symbols and allusions, which you carry around in your heart. Good taste is as important in aesthetics as it is in humor, and indeed taste is what it is all about. If university courses do not start from that premise, students will finish their studies of art and culture just as ignorant as when they began."It is true, however, that people no longer see works of art as objects of judgment or as expressions of the moral life. Increasingly, many teachers of the humanities agree with the untutored opinion of their incoming students, that there is no such thing as a distinction between good and bad taste"--Roger Scruton, "Art, Beauty, and Judgment," The American Spectator, July/August 2007.