Interview with Ferdinand Götz on the subject of beauty in art

The subject of beauty in art and the relationship between fine art and beauty has been on my mind for quite some time. On this topic, I interviewed Ferdinand Götz and several other people. Ferdinand Götz is the curator of the Kunsthaus Deutschvilla in Strobl and chairman of the association

The most recent impetus to deal again with this topic of beauty in art was the season opening in the Kunsthaus Deutschvilla in Strobl, about which I wrote at the beginning of May. Its theme was “Just beautiful today.” Here is now the (late) continuation of the topic. Several visitors to the exhibition and Ferdinand Götz were kind enough to answer my questions.

The Deutschvilla exhibition is not the only one dealing with the theme of beauty:

Three exhibitions and a conference on the theme of beauty

In October 2018 an exhibition by Stefan Sagmeister and Jessica Walsh entitled “Beauty” opened at the MAK in Vienna.

Beauty, Stefan Sagmeister and Jessica Walsh deliver a visually impressive multimedia plea for the pleasure of beauty. (MAK Website)

In April 2019 this year’s member exhibition of the Kunstforum Salzkammergut opened with the title “A Reference to Kurt Ohnsorg – Beauty + Fragility

Even before that, in June 2018, a Christian conference in Augsburg for artists and art lovers dealt with the topic “SCHØN” (beauty) and Sagmeister was a speaker.

Why is there a “SCHØN”?

Because beauty is important. Because we want to keep alive the sense and understanding for beauty. Because all this has to do with spirituality. And because it is a lot of fun to be inspired by other creative people. (SCHØN Website)

Since exhibitions and conferences have a long lead time, I was sure that the respective organizers didn’t have an agreement. So how come that several events happen to be dealing with the subject of beauty around the same time? Only a few years ago, I heard (with astonishment at the time) an artist say at an opening: “I didn’t want to use this color at all, because otherwise my artwork would be beautiful.” Some artists seem to have a reluctance to accept a certain kind of beauty. Is beauty in art now again “in” again and thus a question of the zeitgeist?

These and other questions I asked the curator of the Deutschvilla Ferdinand Götz.

Interview with Ferdinand Götz

How did the exhibition “Einfach schön heut” in the Deutschvilla come about?

Basically, such an exhibition needs 2 years of preparation and I have to play around and think about what could be an interesting exhibition, which artists do I have at my disposal? There are always requests and the folder with beautiful things got fuller. An exhibition needs 10-12 positions, because the house is big. It has 16 playable rooms, so it needs a lot of positions. The more positions one has, the more diverse the exhibition becomes and the more audience it attracts, thus broadening the circle of people interested in the exhibition.

So, I had this collection of beautiful works by these artists and then you feel inside yourself, what is missing now? What was important to me – what had not been considered at all in the MAK exhibition, for example – the beauty of the social, how we can get together, be social, that is the most beautiful thought of all, that we create something together and don’t constantly argue. And I then incorporated this aspect, and also the question, “Is nudity beautiful?” Because in Vienna it was all about aesthetics. I’ve been trying to get deeper into the question of what’s beautiful.

That’s why there was also a room with portraits of very ancient people, not just old people, but ancient people. This is then in most cases no longer beautiful. You know, in 90% of cases they suffer. You look at them and think, it’s not beautiful anymore.

Is the theme of beauty in art a question of the zeitgeist?

I don’t think so. The preoccupation with beauty has always been there. Not all art but often art tries to produce beautiful things. There are many artworks that also rely on the shock moment. They want to put the terrible in the existence and the society on display.

The question of why one deals with the beautiful is not so obsolete, because the state of the world is a very sad one, I would say, and the destruction progresses quite brutally, so the question may arise, is there anything beautiful to be found somewhere?

When I was snorkelling 40 years ago, it was amazing how many fish were there to see … What a paradise I was snorkelling in! But look at the same place today, there are only maybe 10% of the fish. And the absurd thing about it is that the boys who snorkel there today and didn’t know it back then are thrilled. “It’s so great, that’s incredible, did you see that!?!”

Some artists seem to have a reluctance to use beauty in art. What do you think of that?

I experienced this in my own artistic work when I started 35-40 years ago. I had such a psychological strain in me, otherwise I would have become addicted to drugs and so I turned to artistic expression to “puke” it, so to speak. And there was no way to look for anything beautiful, because in me it was not beautiful and I wanted to display what took place inside me and there was much black and chaos. Everything that could have been beautiful was vehemently avoided.

There is also a tendency in the very young art. They’re doing some kind of “fuck it” art. So there they use barf and snot and it’s not about formal beauty or color match, but it’s all so horrible. You only have to look at the landscapes in industrial areas, there everything grows into each other! Everything is to be expressed in the decadent decay of time accordingly. What does society look like? There is nothing beautiful anymore in their perception of these young artists. When you go to the big cities, to the galleries in Madrid, Paris, Vienna … you go in there and think it’s all sickening; it’s so horrible what art is produced there.

Where would you see the relationship between beauty and art?

It is a constant struggle to create the formally perfect colour painting. It’s about every inch of the picture, and when this color harmony and composition bursts the picture, then you can say it’s beautiful. It’s finished. Which I don’t think happens too often. Even with great masters like Rubens, you stand in front of the big painting and think, so up there on the right, that’s not really ideal … there’s something missing. Well, there aren’t as many masterpieces as you’d think.

The invitation of the exhibition alluded to the phrase that beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. Is beauty in art a question of taste?

Well, I’m really questioning that. There is a view of art that is not exclusively determined by taste. But from knowing, from understanding, from looking, where that develops, that I then know what is good and what is not so good. Even if I don’t like a painting, I can say that it is artistic quality and therefore beautiful.

At the exhibition in Gmunden, beauty in nature and the beauty in us humans were also addressed in the opening speech.

Artistically depicting the beauty of nature doesn’t work in most cases because you can say, it’s ok, but nature is much, much richer and the nuances of light … that’s the most difficult of all.

I would question the beauty in us. But there are situations where you can say to a person, that’s very nice now, you are not vain, you are a kind person, a wonderful person, you don’t hurt, you are attentive, and so on. That does exist, but at the same time there are terrible abysses in all of us. Our character is geared towards the good, but whether it really develops in a person is questionable for most. But if it fits, it’s nice.

When an exhibition finally stands with a lot of effort – and that’s a lot of work, one should not underestimate that – and the opening takes place and then the people come. And you see how they are stimulated not only to communicate with the paintings, but also with the other people, and strangers talk to each other. Rich and poor, young and old – in this house especially it mixes so wonderfully – these are the most wonderful moments, this is really beautiful. And then you feel it, then I clearly feel happiness. A real wave. I’m happy, and when you’re happy, it’s really beautiful.

Thank you very much for the interview!

The answers of the exhibition visitors will then appear in the next article.