By George Stanciu
Last week, my wife, a painter-friend of ours, who wishes to be anonymous, and I did the Friday night walk down Canyon Road, the site of numerous galleries in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a small town that is the third-largest art market in the United States. Halfway down Canyon Road, we stopped in at a contemporary gallery that had a new show featuring conceptual art that our painter friend was dying to see. Inside, I gazed at one wall of the gallery painted red with white block letters pronouncing “Belief + Doubt = Sanity”; on another wall I encountered a photograph of a human brain with the caption “A Thinking Machine”; next to the photograph was a large white canvas with the black letters “Pure Beauty.” Puzzled by what I saw, I mumbled, “What pointlessness. What happened to beauty?”
Our painter friend wheeled around to face me, and I was surprised to see black anger in his eyes. He shouted at me and apparently at everyone else in the gallery, “Beauty is an old-fashioned, idiotic concept. Representational art is dead, killed by the camera, by technologists, and by scientists. We contemporary artists are painting ideas.” Then, he pointed at me and yelled, “What do you theoretical physicists know about beauty! Nothing!”
I shrugged my shoulders, and if I hadn’t placed friendship above the truth, I would have said, “More than you artists, apparently.” I surmised that theoretical physicists talk more about beauty than present-day visual artists. I recalled that even as an undergraduate hardly a class in physics or mathematics went by without the word “beautiful” spoken.
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George Stanciu has a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan. He is the Academic Dean Emeritus at Northeast Catholic College in Warner, New Hampshire, and he is the co-author of The New Biology and The New Story of Science and the author of many essays.