Archive | October 11, 2008

Aesthetic Anaesthetic

Scientists discover that you don’t mind as much being zapped by a laser if you’re looking at art you consider beautiful. (Conical hat tip to LRC.)

Head I by Francis Bacon That’s not particularly surprising, but I want to grouse a bit about a comment by project leader Marina de Tommaso, of the University of Bari’s Neurophysiopathology Pain Unit: “These people were not art experts so some of the pictures they found ugly would be considered masterpieces by the art world.”

Dr. de Tommaso is evidently no art expert herself, since her “so” seems to imply something that virtually no art expert would accept: namely, that finding a painting ugly is inconsistent with regarding it as a masterpiece. Beauty is, after all, only one artistically relevant property among others. Nor, common belief (and Randian invective) to the contrary notwithstanding, is the rejection of an exclusive emphasis on beauty a 20th-century development; what is the 18th-century distinction between the beautiful and the sublime but a recognition that there’s more to artistic value than beauty – and more to successful artistic impact than being soothing?

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