Is beauty in the eye of the beholder?

As I wandered the halls of the Ufizzi and Academia, I came to wonder if the modern human, with all his tools and technologies, could create something that could match up to the David, or the Duomo. What makes art, art? Why is it that a man must die for his work to be valuable? I’ve never had much experience with art or it’s study. I don’t know enough about it all to truly appreciate it or understand the meanings sometimes, but I can say that I think it’s amazing. I meandered past sculptures and busts for over an hour and truly enjoyed it.

The Renaissance and Medieval eras were defined by boundless growth in our comprehension of the natural world around us. Artists and scientists came to understand how to do things that had never been done before. This human growth relates to art in a very unique way. I observed that every painting or sculpture I passed depicted at least one human. It was very anthropocentric. The first thought that comes to my mind when I think of art is a portrait of a beautiful, natural landscape. What I saw in the Renaissance art was that these artists had conquered the beauty of the natural world, and thus graduated to the most complex and stunning remaining thing: humans.

I feel that a stone is probably the most “unalive” thing in the world. Perhaps it’s a bit too Hollywood, but imagine if these people were actually encased in the stone. Artists took the most dead things around and gave them life. 

The art of stone makes me more deeply appreciate how beautiful real life is. The intricacy with which a face is made, a face that can move, and smile, and sweat, and bleed, and cry, is unparalleled by any art. It’s strange that such manmade beauty in a painting or sculpture can last through the world tragedies perpetrated by Nazi Germany. 

Art serves as an essential example of what we want, but can’t have. We want an image or a memory to last forever, but it disappears as we blink. We want a chiseled mass of warrior muscle, but the body declines with age. We want to visually see the moment Christ died or the face of the Virgin Mary, but we can’t. We can’t have it, so we idealize it and make art commemorating all the best that could possibly come from life for all of humanity to cherish.

Michelangelo took a feeble shepherd boy, tripled his height (so that in his statue form, he could probably destroy Goliath), chiseled his face, and added some P90X to create a beautifully glorified version of David. The physical David gives us a vision of glory and majesty, even though no one had ever seen the man since Biblical times. In this way, art allows us to imagine, to breathe physical matter into our stories and bring them to life.

Life is a story. Some tell it with words, some tell it without.