The Painting Center is pleased to present the exhibition The Retrieval of the Beautiful featuring 84 artists working in a a variety of media. Galen Johnson’s book The Retrieval of the Beautiful (Northwestern University Press) is a dynamic discussion of existence and consciousness of human activity, including art. Johnson writes, “Here it is enough to see that beauty and the sublime blend into one another when the beautiful grows powerful, transcendent and majestic.” Something beautiful seduces you and draws you in.
Galen A. Johnson is an honors professor at the University of Rhode Island, director of the Rhode Island Center for the Humanities, and General Secretary of the International Merleau Ponty Circle. We are grateful to Galen Johnson and Northwestern University Press for the use of the title The Retrieval of the Beautiful, the title of their recent publication. Maurice Merleau Ponty trained as a psychologist, one of the youngest to lecture at the Sorbonne and was an editor at Les Temps Modernes with Jean Paul Sartre.
Merleau’s philosophical writing emerges from a deeply engaged humanist personality and a passionately motivated form of observation. Merleau’s contribution to Phenomenology is, for us, partly located in his description and analysis of what we might categorize as, “formal” painterly issues – complementary color relations, parallax vision, afterimages, geometry of optics.
His seminal essay, “Cezanne’s Doubt”, links these formalist elements to Cezanne’s psychology and the artist’s fierce insistence on perception as a lived, physical phenomenon.The essay was part of his articulation of the idea of the body-subject as an alternative to the Cartesian ‘Cogito’. The notion of “embodiment” is a central tenet of his ontology.
The development of art since the 1970’s has been, in many ways, Phenomenological. It has taken many of the connections between body and expression, temperament and politics and finally body-art-history and made it its own. Through the framework of Merleau’s aesthetics Galen Johnson pursues the connections found in desire and repetition, difference and rhythm as they evoke the sublime. Johnson’s finely textured discussion weaves classical philosophy as well as the moderns, including Deleuze and Lyotard, as they shuttle threads in The Retrieval of the Beautiful.