Unintentional Beauty


“Franz said, ‘Beauty in the European sense has always had a premeditated quality to it. We’ve always had an aesthetic intention and a long-range plan. That’s what enabled Western man to spend decades building a Gothic cathedral or a Renaissance piazza. The beauty of New York rests on a completely different base. It’s unintentional. It arose independent of human design, like a stalagmitic cavern. Forms which are in themselves quite ugly turn up fortuitously, without design, in such incredible surroundings that they sparkle with a sudden wondrous poetry.’

   Sabina said, ‘Unintentional beauty. Yes. Another way of putting it might be “beauty by mistake.” Before beauty disappears entirely from the earth, it will go on existing for a while by mistake. “Beauty by mistake” – the final phase in the history of beauty.’

   And she recalled her first mature painting, which came into being because some red paint had dripped on it by mistake. Yes, her paintings were based on ‘beauty by mistake’, and New York was the secret but authentic homeland of her painting.

   Franz said, “Perhaps New York’s unintentional beauty is much richer and more varied than the excessively strict and composed beauty of human design. But it’s not our European beauty. It’s an alien world.’

   Didn’t they then at last agree on something?

   No. There is a difference. Sabina was very much attracted by the alien quality of New York’s beauty. Franz found it intriguing but frightening; it made him feel homesick for Europe.”

Milan Kundera – The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Vernacular Aesthetics

“To look through a Becher book is to take a lesson in vernacular aesthetics ; it is to learn to read differences in composition, rhythm and formal solutions where an ordinarily eye would see only indifference and standardisation; it is to derive intense pleasure from your own capacity of discrimination; it is to suffer from your inability to back it up by a technical vocabulary that would make it possible for you to detail a gasometer’s architecture as if it were a cathedral.”

Thierry de Duve, ‘Bernd et Hilla Becher ou la photographie monumentaire’ in Les Cahiers du Musée national d’art moderne, no. 39, pp. 118-29.

gasometer