Bereaving Beauty

Dr. Linda-Saskia Menczel

The visual artists, if they choose to exhibit their work publicly, they become a voice of their time,  public individuals, the embodiment of a creed, having a profound impact on their cultural environment, whether they are aware of it or not. The public sees in any type of visual artist, actor or musician, as a special being, worthy of being placed above the “ordinary mortal”, a bearer of grace and talent. From this position, the artist becomes responsible for what he launches in the world and for the legacy he leaves behind.

The creative artist, even more than the performers, has something to communicate, a message to society or a personal belief that he defends through his own creation and can thus be easily confused with the work he creates. But if we look at the lives of artists, we will see that the artist and the artwork are not identical. Mozart’s musical genius is not reflected in his troubled and chaotic life. However, in the eyes of the general public, the artist and his message to his contemporary world are a unitary whole. Moreover, the visual artist himself becomes his own greatest artwork, his life becoming a subject of public attention, now more than ever, due to his presence in the online environment. Since Andy Warhol, this aspect has been speculated by many artists who may or may not have had a valuable body of work in itself.

The value of the artist’s work is no longer easy to rate today. Any expression seems to have value according to the current rules, maybe less so, when it comes to the traditional ones. The cultural and social evolution of mankind has created the premises for another artistic expression, with various themes and techniques, in which artists have experienced new visions, new goals. Perhaps the most relevant example is the Dada movement, whose purpose and expressiveness were no longer related to the Judeo-Christian heritage of the art of the old continent, but came as a direct confrontation of it. Artistic expression has known the pleasure of the creative act as an end in itself. Expressiveness no longer needed classical thematic support; it could now fit into the current of art for art’s sake. The aesthetics of ugliness, the mirror of fallen humanity, has taken the place of the search for beauty – the mirror of the celestial realm.

The mastery and beauty of Gothic architecture are no longer a sufficient value for the Frenchman of the 21st century. France proudly and carelessly demolishes buildings of rare beauty, representative places for a Christian culture that has built the European artistic foundation. “The current habit of desecrating beauty suggests that people are as aware as they ever were of the presence of sacred things. Desecration is a kind of defense against the sacred, an attempt to destroy its claims. In the presence of sacred things, our lives are judged, and to escape that judgment, we destroy the thing that seems to accuse us”, said the late Roger Scruton[1].

Art has been and still is an integral part of worship in all religions, from the most primitive to the Abrahamic religions[2]. Through music, image or shape, ornate objects or clothing, worship is ennobled with beauty and with the reiteration of dogma through the arts. The pedagogical aspect of visual art in Europe began to disappear after the Middle Ages when art was placed exclusively in the service of man’s redemption through Christian themes. A return to the edifying aspect of art was emphasized by the Council of Trent (1545-1563), where Pope Gregory Ist declared that artists should render biblical scenes bearing in mind that these are equivalent to Scripture for the illiterate[3]. The clergy was urged to control the art of the sacred space to ensure that the “silent preachers,” that is, the artists, accurately and reverently portray the Bible episodes and its saints. The pedagogical goal of art was placed on the same level as the beauty of visual expression.


“And if you had asked what the purpose of Beauty was, you would have found that Beauty is a value, as important in its way as Truth or Goodness, and indeed hardly distinguishable from them. The philosophers of the Enlightenment saw Beauty as a way in which perennial moral and spiritual values ​​take on a sensory form, and no romantic painter, musician, or writer would deny that Beauty is the ultimate goal of his art.” as Scruton continues to remind us[5].  In the History of Beauty, Umberto Eco develops the idea that in most human societies Beauty is associated with Good, Harmony, Proportion, Order, Balance, Truth, and Justice[6]. Good deeds are called beautiful deeds. The creation of Paradise and its pristine beauty is qualified and “good” by the Creator himself.

But beauty downfalls over time, vanishing from the concerns of artists, becoming worthy of contempt, synonymous with kitsch, to be avoided at all costs, a sign of sweet amateurism, incompatible with artistic maturity. In Abuse of Beauty, Arthur C. Danto states, “Missing from my proto-definition, as from all the philosophical definitions of art put forth during the 1960’s that I can recall, was any reference to beauty, which would surely have been among the first conditions to have been advanced by a conceptual analyst at the turn of the twentieth century. Beauty had disappeared not only from the advanced art of the 1960s but from the advanced philosophy of art of that decade as well. Nor could it be part of the definition of art if anything can be an artwork since it is certainly not true that anything is beautiful.”[7]. Jean Duvignaud goes on to say: “Yes, art is dead …”[8] referring to the classical premises of the fine arts.

When sculptor Anish Kapoor says “I have nothing to say as an artist,”[9] his voice is not singular; it reflects the sufficiency of artistic playfulness,  experiment and the final effect. However, it is within human nature to look for meanings and if gazing up toward the heavens was no longer satisfactory, contemporary art felt the need to encrypt its own work with earthly messages, to sound the alarm, to bring to public view social, political, ecological, identity issues, which have become in themselves a criterion of success. The artist-journalist, the artist-anarchist, the artist-ecologist, politically correct/incorrect, socially involved, “woke”, speculating the sensational, the grotesque, or the shocking, has supremacy in Western culture. The fear of beauty was compounded by the fear of having an incorrect political message, but which is still allowed to offend the basis of European culture, the Judeo-Christian heritage, because it is now the enemy of the ideology of the society of the future. The new art points its finger and judges ruthlessly. It often demolishes without proposing a constructive solution.

In 1974, artist Marina Abramovic created a terrifying experiment called Rhythm 0[10]. She remains passive in the face of any interaction with the public, providing them with 72 objects, ranging from benign to torturing objects, and human nature, free from constraints, liberated by circumstance from the edifice of Judeo-Christian morality, unfolds in all its cruelness. At first, the shy audience behaves delicately, thoughtfully, but towards the end of the performance, the artist’s clothes are cut with razor blades, she is injured and someone sucks her blood, she is almost raped, threatened with a gun, mocked. The artistic process clearly reveals human nature, as it can be, uninhibited by social, ethical, and spiritual norms. Marina Abramovic’s artistic endeavors mirror the zeitgeist – the Legion (Mark 5: 8,9)[11]. Damien Hirst cuts a cow and a calf in half with a chainsaw, then puts the halves in transparent formaldehyde basins, and is rewarded with the famous Turner Prize[12]. Yoko Ono’s screams at MoMA in 2010[13] are considered art only within the gallery space; outside of it, the same manifestation is a sign of neurosis or exhibitionism.

On the other hand, a Rembrandt is art in and out of the museum. Art lovers and collectors eventually fall into two broad categories: those who enjoy postmodern art and those who believe that not everything can be called art, and the distance between them increases as contemporary avant-garde art can overcome any limitations that human culture has attributed to art throughout history.

The Beautiful/Good binomial has almost completely disappeared from contemporary art, being limited to a small niche of “sacred art” that has become obsolete over time and viewed with suspicion by both artists and art critics. If visual art is an act of public statement, making art inspired by Scripture has become an act of courage. Through the public exhibition of the artwork, a personal creed, that act of creation, becomes a public proclamation, has a pedagogical value, even more so now, when the virtual environment offers a wide platform and a global audience. Wassily Kandinsky emphasizes that a work of art gains life from its author, while also receiving a constructive purpose, and its value depends as much on the soundness of the aesthetic rendering as on its spiritual nature[14].

But why is it anachronistic to produce art with a sacramental subject, but it is acceptable to have as a source of inspiration the personal political, social, sexual belief, saving nature, animals, heritage, minorities, or other often noble causes? Without accusing the lack of merits of the arts with a social character, ecological, political, humanitarian alerts or simple self-expression without the philosophical probing of existential abysses, the void left by the spiritual theme impoverishes the contribution of art creators to the confused world we live in. The secularization of the world has imposed its sentence on the art inspired by the Biblical text, but offers a platform for other sources of inspiration of a spiritual-magical order, related to cultures foreign to Western society, and which present the attraction of the exotic and the endorsement of postmodern aesthetics.

In the face of these types of artistic expression, a need arises in some artists and art lovers to return to immutable, time-tested, edifying, sacred meanings. This explains how some artists, artistic groups (Prolog, Noima), and recurring cultural events (the annual Dialogue with the Sacred) appeared in the Romanian artistic landscape, assuming somewhat timidly or even courageously, the character of Christian art. This contemporary artistic current takes its vigor from the text of Scripture or from patristic writings, declaring with a delicacy rarely found in the current cultural space, a personal creed, a spiritual affiliation, solitary voices, but strongly anchored in their own authenticity.

Without claiming to be sacred art, these artists use artistic expressions of the art of the time, but with a radical theoretical substratum different from most of the themes approached by contemporaneity. The artistic identity of each creator is preserved, but their commonality lies in the liturgical and edifying anchor of the themes that run through their work. It is perhaps a form of apostolate, a confession of faith, an exhortation to revisit ancestral values, a pedagogy offered with nobility, without prophetic advances, feelings of superiority, or discrimination of otherness.

Even when the anchor to Byzantine art remains visible, it is interpreted, stylized, and recomposed in a contemporary key, without losing the iconographic meaning of the image. The golden background used in Byzantine mosaics and icons becomes in Silviu Orăvițan an element, a module, a ray of light, in complex, archetypal compositions. The icon becomes stylized, graphic, and expressive in Sorin Dumitrescu’s work. Simeon Cristea’s wooden blessings are ethereal hands that seem to emerge from another higher realm; the diaphanous and sacralized Eucharist of Cozmin Movilă urges piety. Liviu Mocan, Marian Zidaru, Delia Corban, Cristian Ungureanu, Doina Mihăilescu, Onisim Colta and many others, united in thought at a core level, extremely different in artistic expression, are part of the new artistic strand of Romanian art that has lifted its eyes to the Heavens again.

Art, if it takes the form of a statement of creed, of reverence for Creation, is obliged to continue its mission to educate and serve the Beautiful, the Noble, and the Good. The fear of the Beautiful, for the sake of the immediate, the shock and the spectacular, moved contemporary artists away from their prophetic purpose, when a creative flow was associated with the spiritual search. The inner call to know the mysteries of the universe is never anachronistic, and art, in all its forms, can, if it wishes to do so, contribute to guiding humanity to fulfillment. Art can also accompany man to destruction, nihilism, depression, and anguish, like a funeral march that mirrors the feelings of the procession. Never in history has the artist had such public exposure and therefore bears full responsibility for what he disseminates in the world. Whether they want it or not, the artists are teachers; their work educates the public both through artistic expression and through the theme approached. What they do and what they are, matters,  it is documented, and it contributes to the digital cultural space that ensures immortality. The Internet records the voice of contemporary artists, they can promote the decline of the world or its beauty, freedom is complete, the choice is individual.

In a blessed vicious circle, a sacred theme, interpreted with reverence, urges its creator to rise to the level of the message he expresses through his vocation. In this case, the artist follows the steps laid out by his work, which through subject and inspiration can be superior to him; similarly, the artwork can catch up with the artist who tends towards self-betterment, this the iconographer knows best. From this synergy, the artist himself becomes his own most precious work, a constantly unfinished work that tends towards perfection, and then, the Beautiful, the Good and the Noble reflect from man into his creation and from his creation into the world.


[1] Scruton Roger. Beauty and Desecration. Analysis, 2016, 19 (2), pp.1 – 11. ff10.5281/zenodo.1184690ff. ffhal-01791908f

[2] Abrahamic religions ( Judaism, Christianity and Islam) have the patriarch Abraham as their founder

[3] Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent. Rockford, Illinois, 1978, pp 215-127

[5]Scruton Roger. Beauty and Desecration

[6] Eco Umberto. Istoria Frumuseții. Editura Rao, București, 2005

[7] Danto Arthur C., The abuse of beauty, Daedalus, Vol.131, Nr.4, On Beauty 2002, p.37

[8] Duvignaud Jean, Sociologia Artei, Editura Meridiane, București, 1995, p.72

[9] Cited from an interview that Anish Kapoor gave to Kaleem Aftad:

[10], accessed 07.12.2021

[11] „For he said unto him, Come out of the man, thou unclean spirit. And he asked him, What is thy name? And he answered, saying, My name is Legion: for we are many.” Mark 5:8,9. Verses with similar content, identifying the demonic legion can also be found in Luke 8:30 and Mathew 8:29-32

[12], accessed on 07.12.2021

[13], accessed on 07.12.2021

[14] Kandinsky Wassily, Concerning the Spiritual în Art, Dover Publication,.Inc, New York, 2019, p.53


Fear of beauty”,  appeared in Notebooks of Art and Design, Vol.9, no.9, 2021, p.186