Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Artist of the Beautiful

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Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Artist of the Beautiful

"He had caught a far other butterfly than this. When the artist rose high enough to achieve the beautiful, the symbol by which he made it perceptible to mortal senses became of little value in his eyes while his spirit possessed itself in the enjoyment of the reality." -Hawthorne, "The Artist of the Beautiful".

In "The Artist of the Beautiful" by Nathaniel Hawthorne, creative process is represented as the practice of creating an animated mechanism in the shape of a butterfly and imbuing it with the spirit of Owen Warland – the pursuer of beauty. Owen is confronted with the skepticisms of Robert Danforth, a blacksmith, and Peter Hovenden, a retired watch maker. Both Robert and Peter describe Owen's effort to create beauty as a futile struggle while he could be making watches that are useful and profitable.

Owen's love toward Annie Hovenden, daughter of Peter Hovenden, puts Owen in a very difficult position of loving the daughter of his enemy. After witnessing two incidents of destruction of his project, receiving the despairing news of Annie's marriage to Robert, and long days and night of toil, Owen finally presents his product of a small machine as a belated-bridal gift to Annie. The story suggests that art is a personal pursuit of the artist's ideal that takes his or her imagination and intellect beyond the real world to see beauty. The artist strives to produce a materialized representation of his or her vision of beauty.

This act of creativity involves effort, toil, inspiration, failure, and is accompanied by the scorn and criticism of others who do not understand, as Arthur Koestler puts, the bisociative connection the artist makes in his inspirati...

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Owen presents his final product, an animated butterfly, as a belated bridal gift to Annie. The butterfly that Owen made is so lively that Annie, Robert, and Peter question whether it is alive. To this question, Owen responds that his work has "absorbed [his] own being into itself' and it is a "[representation] of his intellect, the imagination, the sensibility, and the soul of an Artist of the Beautiful" (350). The butterfly well might be a representation of the spirit of an artist as its beauty and light diminishes in "an atmosphere of doubt and mockery" (352). Although the cost of his toil and thought was only to be shattered again by a stroke of a baby, the destruction of his masterpiece did not disappoint him for he "rose high enough to achieve the beautiful... [and] his spirit possessed itself in the enjoyment of the reality" (354).
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