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Provoking beauty: a studio research project examining the provocative dimensions of beauty in visual art today

posted on 21.02.2017, 23:04 by Pavlovic, Mary Louise
My studio research is largely influenced by the things that I find beautiful, for example, water bowls decorated with floating flowers, found all over the streets of Bali, Indonesia. I am interested in beauty’s power and its ability to instill pleasure. In response to the Balinese floral pools, I have created a whole trajectory of sculptural forms that address notions of suspension. My exegetical research has revealed that aspects of my studio work—water, nature, flowers and intense colours—are associated with beauty in philosophy, art history or form part of the vernacular of beauty. That my practice engages subject matter discussed in academia in relation to beauty or utilised in everyday estimations of beauty (for example, nature) provides the anchor for the subject of beauty to be considered in my PhD from a more objective perspective, as opposed to personal. Additionally, while exhibitions about beauty are common in contemporary art, beauty is often marginalised in dominant art theory. In influential anti-aesthetic theory, for example, to claim interest in beauty in art is largely regarded as conservative. I believe that I have identified a gap—between predominating art theory that is hostile to beauty, and studio work that asserts the relevancy and importance of beauty in Visual Arts practice. The major research question in the exegesis is: can beauty be positioned provocatively in contemporary art, as opposed to conservatively, in order to demonstrate that the subject of beauty is never closed, and remains open-ended? The methodologies of enquiry surrounding the exegesis have been constructed from a range of disciplines that include art history, philosophy and cultural theory. The studio methodology includes casting, assemblage, carving, painting, photography and public art. Working intuitively as part of my studio methodology, I have juxtaposed various elements, for example, organic shaped flowers and classical sculptural forms to create studio research that is not fully integrated with the world around it. As the practice refers to nature, the exegetical research considers the contemporary relevance of the German philosopher Theodor Adorno’s concepts regarding aesthetic otherness in the illusion of autonomous art and its relationship to natural beauty. In a brightly coloured painted public artwork and discrete sculptural forms, my studio work also engages decorative elements and intense colour—related to prettiness—a form of beauty. I have examined the British artist Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe’s ideas about prettiness’ (often considered in binary opposition to the forceful sublime as passive) capacity to subvert sublime related seriousness in art. My project requests that we consider seriously beauty’s provocative dimension. In failing to do so, we lose the opportunity to experience beauty as a substantial resource for provocative thinking in contemporary art.


Campus location


Principal supervisor

Leslie Eastman

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Fine Art


Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture