Small is Beautiful, Less is More

By Jale Erzen,  First Vice President IAA, Ankara, Turkey

Recent uprisings in the Arab world make me think about power and aesthetics. As the Arab leaders appeared on the TV we saw that the accumulation of years and wealth had transformed these persons, who initially may have been
well-intentioned, into Frankensteins. Yet, like pornography which is pushed by desires that cannot be fulfilled, their show of power had a sad aspect. Shut-off in their false consciousness, they seem like creatures of an illusion or of an artificial world.

The resistance of the Arab leaders to time and to change has turned their lack of
vulnerability into obscenity. Power is threatening and ugly as it is stiff and
resists change, while beauty is always vulnerable against time and change,
hence its fragility. It elevates us with joy and excitement and makes us feel
responsible for it, urging us to protect it. While beauty and the excitement it
gives have a certain strength or vitality, these are far removed from power;
such strength is always coupled with a feeling of anxiety or faintness, as if
the joy one feels for beauty is too heavy for the heart to bear.

All this also brings to mind the question why in the contemporary
world the effectiveness (and also the power) of media and the ugliness of power
are often experienced together. Watching
the news makes me think that news people take a sadistic pleasure in horrifying
scenes, much like many Hollywood filmmakers. Or, is it the large public, bored
with the routine and the mechanistic drive of the quotidian which creates such
a demand? One cannot and should not be blind to the evil and mishap in the
world, yet the way these have been the major preoccupation of media and of
recent art make one think that the aesthetics of our age is rather focused on
the negative. In art, what once seemed an interest in the surreal, the sublime
and even the shock of the mundane, has in most recent examples focused on the
repulsive; today the ugly is given priority in its extreme form.

Watching the Arab world as the ‘other’, I remember the wonderful
essay by Linda Nochlin on Orientalism. All such spectacle of power and of decay
distances us from the real issue and from the fact that the mechanisms that
support such powers are in fact related to our seemingly innocent life-styles
and to our blind confidence in ‘development’ that feeds the Gargantuan world of
finance. Let‘s awaken to the fact that we are like the Orientalists who so
complacently criticized the East. But at least they created an art which in
turn reflected on them.

As long as we do not change our diet of consumption the indecent
world of unsatisfiable appetites will devour all plain and fragile beauty. It
is time again to consider the relation of Aesthetics to Ethics, and to Politics
( which I would like to remind everyone, is the theme of the next symposium of
the Nordic Society of Aesthetic).