What is beauty?
The Financial Times last Saturday carried the picture of a nude in the front page, Lucien Freud’s Sleeping Benefits Supervisor.
It would not be a sight most people would welcome, turning to the newspaper at the start of the day. It is not even a fair representation of the model whose day job was in a social welfare office in Britain. The real import of the story, for the FT anyway, was that the painting is expected to make $25-$35 million when it comes to auction next month. Whatever I might think, there are people who think the painting is worth a price that will be a world record for a living artist.
Are beauty and value things that can only be attributed? And how much do they depend on association with other things? Would Sleeping Benefits Supervisor be considered a great work of art worth a huge price if it had been painted by an arts student from an unfashionable college? Does the use of light and colour and all the other techniques have more significance in the name of someone famous than the use of identical techniques by someone unknown?
I wondered about beauty last night.
There is a big wooden cross from Good Friday standing in the corner beside the Communion table in our church. It is draped in white linen, a reminder of the grave linen being left empty on Easter morning. Fastened to the middle of the cross there is a little bouquet of flowers. Traditionally, there would have been a big spray of Easter flowers, but this little bouquet is made of tissue paper. It was brought by a little girl in our junior choir on Easter Eve to decorate the cross.
The church will be decorated today for a wedding tomorrow and I wonder what the flower arranger will make of it? The bouquet may look ugly to most of the wedding guests – paper flowers in the midst of an abundance of natural whites and golds. It may look amateurish and silly and trivial amongst the suave professional arrangements that will fill the church. But what is beauty?
Because of the associations it has, the faith of the person who made it, it being brought forward at the Easter Vigil, there is more beauty, for me, in that little paper bunch, made by a ten year old, than in the most fantastic floral arrangement.
Perhaps beauty comes only by association and all our associations are different and if some people believe Sleeping Benefits Supervisor to be a work of beauty through the associations they make, then I am happy with that.