Saturday, November 19, 2011

On Beauty. And Goths.

Over at Orphans of Conservatism Liberty, James Higham has been considering art and aesthetics. And he offers some thoughts on females and alternative fashion:
The sight of ugly goth girls with nosebones and tatts trying to do steampunk is an utter travesty. and yet intrinisically, in terms of the outer form G-d gave them, those lasses could be so beautiful. Why are they trying to be ugly? How are they so under the spell of the dark side that they could wallow in this pit of ordure? How are they so pig-ignorant, so harsh of cackle, so witch-like? What a mockery of the supposed beauty of youth.
Now, neither James nor anyone other than the actual girls concerned can truly say why they choose to adopt the goth subculture. It is perfectly possible that they choose these apparently controversial "nosebones and tatts" for numerous reasons - to fit in with the goth subculture, to provoke reactions, to assert an identity different from the ones they were raised with. Y'know, alternative culture as a form of protest (and thus an important part of growing up for some people). Nothing to do with the dark side or being pig-ignorant, or witchlike.

Likewise with art. It is simply not a case of representing beautiful things in a beautiful way. It can be about being provocative, about challenging people, about getting a debate going. Two of the most striking art exhibitions I have seen at the Chapman brothers' "What if Hitler was a Hippy?" and one of Francis Bacon's work (including the notorious Screaming Popes) - and neither of those could really be described as beautiful despite being highly effective art.

But there is another possibilty: it is more than possible that the "ugly goth girls" aren't "trying to be ugly". In fact, it could be that these girls (and the men in the goth subculture) see these piercings and tattoos as ways of enhancing their beauty. It is just that their view of what is beautiful is different to that of the Christian conservative James Higham. That's fine; that's a question of opinion. What I cannot justify is why one conception of beauty should trump another, which is precisely what Higham seems to be suggesting with the his vision of beauty good/their vision of beauty bad. Why should James' opinion trump alternative views? Answers on a postcard please, because in a pluralistic free society I can't think of any meaningful reason.

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At 2:26 pm , Blogger Katabasis said...

That's really quite annoying. I've been part of the "alternative" subculture myself since I was a young teenager.

I've always found rock chicks, goths, biker girls, punks, fetish girls etc attractive.

I'd really like to know where this objective source of beauty comes from...

At 4:12 pm , Blogger Longrider said...

I have goth tendencies myself - not to the extreme - I only have the one piercing, but I like the dark coats, jackets and boots. Mrs L and I will sometimes go out for the evening in our Dark Angel clothing. It's all a matter of taste.

At 6:00 pm , Blogger The Nameless Libertarian said...

That's the point thought, isn't it? There is no objective source of beauty, merely subjective preferences when it comes to beauty.

At 9:57 am , Blogger James Higham said...

In fact, it could be that these girls (and the men in the goth subculture) see these piercings and tattoos as ways of enhancing their beauty. It is just that their view of what is beautiful is different to that of the Christian conservative James Higham.

Of course there is. Quasimodo is not held to be beautiful by anyone. Not everything has to be relative, boys. Besides, it wasn't to do with a person's beauty or not but about what people do to themselves but more importantly, it was about architecture ... but of course, that doesn't give you a bete noir, does it? :)

At 11:48 am , Anonymous JD said...

Art "...can be about being provocative, about challenging people"
This is known as Artbollox- see below:

At 12:16 pm , Blogger The Nameless Libertarian said...


First up, the piece was about architecture... and art and goths. Sorry, James, but there is no two ways of reading the paragraph quoted when you try to paint some goths as evil* because they do not conform to your vision of beauty. So all the comments here and in the post still stand.

And as for somethings not being relative; well, I'd argue that there is a need for some universally applicable norms. However achieving an overlapping consensus on these is nigh on impossible, and tends to involve a power-grab along the lines of "this is wrong because the vast majority of people in society say it is". So there is no chance of us agreeing on a non-existent objective truth when it comes to a deeply subjective concept such as beauty. Thus there's no way of you showing that your understanding of beauty is the correct one, and your citing of a fictional character does nothing to change that (not least because I think, if you looked hard enough, you would find someone who does find that character beautiful).

In short there is no objective truth when it comes to the beauty of people, art or, indeed, architecture - just subjective opinions such as your own.


*I'm assuming you're referencing evil when you make comments about them being witchlike and on the dark side.

At 12:19 pm , Blogger The Nameless Libertarian said...


The fact that some people are pretentious about art (and, by Christ, a lot of people really are) doesn't change the fact that it can achieve things different to looking pretty. The Jackdaw is nothing more than an opinion on art; not an automatically wrong one, but one that - like all others - is unable to conclusively make the case for why their interpretation of art should be priviliged over other ones.


At 5:42 pm , Blogger Thornavis said...

JH is is assuming that aesthetics has a moral dimension, which, ironically, is a largely modernist, post-romantic view. William Blake may have kicked it all off by marrying his art with his barmy mythology and the English romantics like Samuel Palmer worshipped him and followed his example by fitting their their art into their philosophy, conservative in their case. Leftists picked up the baton with the arts and crafts movement and both sides have spent the past century or so firing paintballs at each other, it's all pretty silly though. I wonder what JH would have made of Beethoven whose dissonant chords shocked contemporary audiences, now we have to listen hard even to notice and nobody would call his music ugly.
JH's comment about Quasimodo is quite telling, we tend to recoil from that kind of deformity for evolutionary reasons, it's a sign either of disease or poor genes, human culture has imbued these unconscious instincts with moral revulsion, he doesn't find Goth girls attractive so they must have something wrong with them and there must be something wrong with a society that produces such people, subjective and poor logic.


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