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Ron Johnson
Reflections on Beauty


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Reflections on Beauty

Ron Johnson

Indeed, an essential function of genuine beauty, as emphasized by Plato, is that it gives man a healthy “shock,” it draws him out of himself, wrenches him away from resignation and from being content with the humdrum—it even makes him suffer, piercing him like a dart, but in so doing it “reawakens” him, opening afresh the eyes of his heart and mind, giving him wings, carrying him aloft. Dostoevsky’s words that I am about to quote are bold and paradoxical, but they invite reflection. He says this: “Man can live without science, he can live without bread, but without beauty he could no longer live, because there would no longer be anything to do to the world. The whole secret is here, the whole of history is here.”

— Pope Benedict XVI, “Message to Artists”

The exploration of beauty in the visual arts can conveniently be divided into two types, the natural/material and the symbolic/spiritual. Symbolic art reigned until the naturalistic revolution of the Renaissance, which in turn reigned until the nineteenth century. For example, Greek statuary is symbolic, whereas Renaissance sculpture is naturalistic; cave paintings, Egyptian and Etruscan Art are all obviously symbolic, while Impressionist painting reached the apex of natural art—the description of the absolute surface of the subject without concern for the spiritual.

Photography can be an important symbolic art form because it is so closely tied to its subject, the natural world...

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Ron Johnson was born in Stamford, Connecticut, and raised in Austin, Texas. His interest in photography began in the 1950s and won him awards in the 1970s while stationed in Germany. His work began in earnest in the late 1980s with the advent of computerized digital negative processing. His work has been shown the University of Texas, Texas Tech University, the Daugherty Arts Center in Austin, and at Art City Austin 2009. He publishes his images and thoughts on photographic art and philosophy on his website, violetcrownphotographs.com.