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Lesson Plans

Beauty and Pleasure

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Cindy Cronn (
27 Oct 1998 08:15:07 U

In my reading of your discussion today, I was struck by a collection of "convergences" among things I am reading right now, today! I spent a few days in Japan last summer, and my "favorite sport" when I was there was visiting gardens. If there is an unqualified example of beauty for me, I found it in those gardens. I remarked that there wasn't a view from my camera lens that wasn't beautiful, a work of art! Of course, I know the level at which I was responding to what I saw in the gardens was not at the deepest level of aesthetic response, but it was certainly an example of unmitigated pleasure for me. This morning, before I read the "Beauty and Pleasure" piece, I was reading a critic's appraisal of a photography exhibit he had reviewed. He stated that there was nothing really unique or unusual about the subject matter of the photographs, but that they were technically superior and did reach a new level of excellence for him in their size, drama, and compositionl so he writes about a juxtaposition: ordinary, but beautiful. The gardens, for me involved "just plain old 'garden variety' pleasure." The gardens are not ordinary in any sense of the work, and they are intensely beautiful.

When you asked the question about thinking of things that are beautiful, but not pleasurable, I thought of two very different examples from my own experience. The first was the Viet Nam Memorial. Its simplicity and its message point up another conflict or juxtaposition of ideas. The beauty and simplicity of the wall and its very complex and devastating message create a conflict which drives a response. I thought of the word "poigniancy" in this context. And the beauty of "getting it," of receiving a poignant message, is the point of this work for me. The other example is a Boltansky work at our local Museum. This work is a wooden box with raw electrical cords and incandescent lights lighting photographs of children from the holocaust. It is far from beautiful and exceedingly complex to view and yet it caused a wrenching response when I first saw it. It was very troubling and I was almost suspicious of the level at which I was receiving the image. I have returned to it many times in a effort to make sure I wasn't engaging in a sort of "cheap thrill" upon my first experience with it. But I believe that it was a pleasurable experience if I permit myself to use the work "poignant" instead.

So I think that my understanding of the few examples above has its roots in the disparity between what we see and what it means and that what that requires is the willingness to take a long look at things in the first place. It is what is required of us if we want to develop any kind of human understanding at all. This brings me to the other reading I did this morning, a part of an article entitled "The Emotional Practice of Teaching," by Andy Hargreaves. Teaching, after all, is in part an effort to get students to slow down and take time with things, whether it is mathematical problems or big questions about art. We are asking them to do what Ron said of Trajan's Column. "When the beauty of these panels sinks in, my response is complex." For anything to sink in we have to take time. In students, I want to enrich and deepen their emotional response to life through art. And I must somehow, do that without their knowing what's happening because we are talking junior high kids here!

Thanks for the opportunity to be involved in this discussion. This is time that I don't always give myself and I appreciate the chance to do it.

  • Maybe reply: Debi13: "Re: Beauty and Pleasure"