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Like so many Indigenous Australians, Kngwarry has evoked her deep spiritual and cultural connection to the lands that we share through some of the most intensely beautiful objects made by human hands.
Over time, the term “aesthete” began to take on new meanings as a euphemism for the effete Oxford intellectual.
Men like Wilde were an open threat to acceptable gender norms—the pursuit of beauty, both in the adoration of beautiful things, and in the pursuit of personal appearances, was deemed unmanly.
The Bright Young Things, as they were called, were the last bloom of a dying plant — the last generation of British aristocrats to lead a life of unfettered leisure before so many were cut down in their prime by the war that permanently altered the economic structure of Britain.
Stephen Tennant was the brightest of the Bright Young Things.
It had long been held that men and women approached the world differently.
Men were rational and intellectual; women emotional and irrational.We can uncover her choices—the mix of predetermination and instinct of a maker in the flow of creation.It is not our cultural differences that strike me when I look at this painting. My felt response to this work does not answer questions of particular cultures or histories. I am aware of a beautiful object offered up by its maker, who surely felt the beauty of her creation just as I do. I am not saying that works of art ought to be beautiful.The queerness of aesthetes like Wilde was dangerously transgressive, and the pursuit of beauty provided a zone in which to challenge the heteronormative foundations of conservative society, just as Darwin’s radical theories had challenged Christian beliefs of the origins of humankind.Wilde’s legacy was continued by a new generation of young aristocrats at a time of cultural crises between the two World Wars.When she is emotional and empathic, she is at risk of being called hysterical.Likewise, a man who works in the beauty industry — a make-up artist, fashion designer, hairdresser, or interior designer — might be mocked for being effete and superficial.Art critics and historians have a difficult time dealing with beauty.We are trained from early on that the analysis of a work of art relies on proof, those things that we can point to as evidence.One cartoon from the Washington Post lampooned the aesthete with a reference to Charles Darwin’s controversial theory of evolution. Here the pun relies on a comparison made between the irrational ape — Darwin’s original human — and Wilde the frivolous aesthete.The aesthete was a dangerous combination of male privilege, class privilege, and female sensibility.