‘Beauty is a problem for poetry because we no longer imagine beauty as a serious way of knowing,’ writes Associate Professor Lisa Samuels of The University of Auckland. In a chapter of an essay collection, Modernism Is Not Enough, her précis was to prove that it is. Beauty is a serious non-conceptual way of knowing. Beauty wedges into the artistic space a structure for continuously imagining what we do not know. As against Shelley’s popular terms, it is not a translation of knowledge into imagination; but, rather, a translation—though, a usually elusive one—of imagination into knowledge. This point about artistic beauty and subjective pleasure is, in a way, in sympathy with Baudelaire’s twofold idea of beauty; that those parts of beauty which resist translation back to knowledge, although considered uselessly private and uncommunicative, are in fact, what beauty ‘knows’; and that knowledge is also—perhaps most importantly—what we do not yet know.
Much remains outside our systems of deformance and interpretation. But, like the general art of life, the poetry of the earth is never dead, as wrote John Keats. There is poetry in breath, in thought, in the rhythm of norms. There is poetry in the prose of life, in the drama of existence, in the music of dreams. There is poetry in everything, but beauty is not in everything; simply because it is contingent and unique and cannot be derived from or defined according to rules or explanatory codes. The tangible interest which an individual consciousness invests in a work of art is measured by the models of sympathy such art is able to realise in accordance with the social, cultural, and political needs of its supposed investor. These needs are mutable; hence, the constant discrepancies in confessed standards of beauty.
In the art of John Madu, there is also poetry – the poetry of paints. Morphogenesis is the broad referent of the plural body of humanist and religious metaphors, to which the artist consecrates his strokes. It is the poetry of everything, since Madu inundates his canvass with an aesthetic built on the transcendence of a philosophical eclecticism; paring seasons with extinction; creation with desolation; creed with indifference; fauna with contraption; industry with solitude; and personality with community.
There is a kind of foreknowing tragedy in this artistic pluralism; but it is a tragedy that serves a social purpose. Great art flourishes on problems or the elucidation of problems. The morphogenesis in Madu’s distinctive pattern serves ironically to illustrate the degeneration of the human and the human society through the byways of modernism, exploring man as affected by his environment. His metaphors, which are illuminated by the well-mastered technique of illusion, traversing proportionately the divide between abstract and solid impressions, maintain a temperate sojourn with the viewer. It is the beginning of a perfect sensate discourse.
When Alexander Baumgarten coined the word, ‘aesthetic’ from the Greek aisthesis (‘sensory perception’), he was perhaps more enlightened than we often are about the power of the senses, since he wanted to make serious place for the ‘lower’ sensory functions among ‘higher’ functions of rational meaning. Maybe this accounts for the popular claim—even in the face of accusations of aesthetic delusion—that more is found in less. Maybe this is also why an image, we should recognise, can utter a thousand words, a thousand distinctive words.
Still, there is nothing more virginal than the shimmer of fresh sensibilities upon a canvass of paints eternal and bold. As Wendy Steiner puts it, ‘the pleasures of art, however scandalous they have come to be seen, are valuable and worth protecting’.
You can VIEW MORE of John Madu’s works here.