This is one my favorite paintings. The Floor Scrapers by Gustave Caillebotte. Not only that I don’t know why I like it so much, but I can’t even find a message behind the painting. I can’t dissect it the way that I like to do with other paintings.

It’s just beautiful.

Hence today’s question. Do you believe that aesthetic appeal has the same value as tackling complex philosophical issues? Do we gain something from reading a few pages of beautiful writing, more than just the enjoyment of reading something wonderful.

Does beauty mean more than what we can see?

Hmm… tough questions, I know.

I just know that I  love to stare at this painting for hours in a row, my mind quiet, my soul empty.


115 thoughts on “Beautiful

  1. I think writing that effectively crafts a picture is the key to writing as art rather than utility. It is the difference between moving an audience and making a tool. They often look the same, but it is the movement of the tool in the craftsman's hand that reveals the true meaning. Incidentally, that is what that painting is saying to me.

  2. Whatever appeals to us on a deeper aesthetic level sharpens our sensitivity, evokes thought and stimulates the brain. Yes, there's more than just a passing sense of pleasure, I think.

  3. I think that although painting and philosophy are two entirely different things, they are related: painting tries to create a vision of the world, while philosophy tries to explain the world. In a way, they are both products of our worlds and of our perceptions, put forth into entirely new mediums. In that respect, they are both highly valuablle to us, bringing forth both aesthetic joy and mental inquisitiveness.

    So if you can write a book that explores philosophical questions while telling a very good story, it's even better.

  4. I am very rarely lost within a piece of art the way I am with this. Its breathtaking but why? You are a very clever person my friend. Thank you for writing this and making me question whether true beauty actually has to be stereo typically pleasing like a rose on a dewy morning has taught me a great lesson. This painting is stunning and the fact I feel like I can smell and even see the shavings begin to fall as the painting comes to life is amazing. Thank you so much :)

  5. well, if your soul's empty there must be no genuine beauty transpiring here since that would undoubtedly influence the birth of a certain feeling. but then again, can you rigorously define what we call "beautiful", trace the criteria on which we grant the adjective or surely enumerate its effects? I, for once, can least identify it with an inextricable power to fill my usually low fuel reservoirs of sheer happiness and really excite my senses (sight, majorly). Perhaps Schopenhauer explains it better, further extending the issue in the 'world as will and representation'.

    about the aesthetic value vs. psychological complexity: don't they naturally blend? I've always lived with the quite abstract idea they emerge one from the other. Virginia Woolf is an author of plenty examples of gorgeous words constructions vying poetry with an underground layer of what we name food-for-thought…

  6. I can not say but this painting is different. Personally, I like the painting because of the sepia tones. I dont' find it so beautiful as I find it unusual simply because it is of three men working at a seemingly easy job and it is not as simple as it looks. The work is hard because it is being done by six hands rather than a machine.

  7. One of my tutors at art college, Paul Neagu, used to say that beauty came from truth (not obviousness, not truisms). He believed that there were essential truths to be found out there and that by uncovering them we found beauty. I like the purity of what he said, but I think truth comes in all shapes and sizes.

    Personally, I don't subscribe to the idea that art has to contain a message – in fact I'd say most of the art I like raises questions rather than attempting to answer them. Interesting post.

  8. There are a lot of messages there, Cristian! Show it to 1,000 people and there could be 1,000 different answers. It's what we perceive it to be. As for what the artist's wanted to express: who says he wanted to convey a message? Perhaps what he found beautiful about the idea of painting it, was to reflect upon how much work goes in to making something beautiful, and that those who spend such time and effort, are worthy of recognition.

  9. The perspective is absolutely perfect! It is a very lovely painting and there is a reason that it appeals to you so much. Keep looking at it and you might find it. Maybe it just has not been the right time

  10. art that displays action is always involving I find… a really nice painting.

    The question? Yes all forms of expression have value and who can say one is more valuable than another?

  11. If you ever get a chance to see this painting in person, do. The reproduction doesn't do it justice. It's breathtaking to see those strokes and the subtle shifts in color and energy that even rises from the reproduction. Caillebotte produced an extraordinary body of work and this is my favorite of his as well.

    As far as your questions, philosophy vs beauty seems like those proverbial apples and oranges.

    But beauty, ah, that is vicarious and shifting like precisely where a breeze flows at a particular moment in autumn, yet it's what we long to feel, to be absorbed in, whatever the source. And what doesn't have beauty especially since appreciation truly is in the beholder rather than the beheld?

  12. So much going on in this picture; love it! Labor of love, and red wine on the side!

    I am going to reblog it on my new reblog page : )

  13. Beauty has intrinsic value. I don't think creation of beauty needs the support of philosophic meaning. We create beauty because it's what we do. There is no other reason necessary, and no other meaning needed.

  14. It evokes many things for me, even wondering about the lovely iron work balcony…what city is it…Geneva, Paris? In any case the textures of the wood, combined with the subjects themselves, all ring true. I agree…beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

  15. I experience two different, if not always disparate, feeling when reading something wonderful. I think there are exquisite tales and exquisite 'tellings'. That is, some writing I find wonderful because I love the story and the way that story makes me feel. Some writing I find inspires me not for the story but for the way it is told, the craftsmanship of the prose, the way the words are turned and formed. It's like looking at a magnificent painting -like yours- and appreciating how beautiful it looks, then getting very close and appreciating the skill of the paint, how it was mixed and applied. They often are inseparable, but they are nonetheless distinct and can be marveled at on their own.

  16. I never saw this painting before so thanks very much for sharing. There is beauty in the physical space shown, beauty in hard work, beauty in restoration and beauty in friendship…all in evidence.

  17. As an artist, I can say that not all art has to have a deeper meaning. Sometimes it's purely visual, or there was something about the light or the composition of the objects that appealed to the artist. And that can be enough.

  18. Value depends on the person. What I value and what you value may be two very different things. Beauty is definitely more than what is visible. Message or not, Caillebotte's painting has a sense of serenity and satisfaction to me. A sense of a job well done. The use of light on the flooring is fantastic as well. We all have a purpose and Caillebotte values the floor scrappers' expertise.

  19. I wonder if the appeal lies in the possibilities. There are so many questions…who are the men? What is the time period? What will that space be? All kinds of questions come to mind while looking at this. In my opinion the piece is so beautiful that on first glance the viewer gets to ask those questions. It's so visually perfect that it gives the viewer the opportunity to imbue the work with her own meaning. Beautiful things are provocative therefore the reader/viewer understands something about herself or the world at large because of this contact with the beautiful.

  20. I'm quite confident that it must me the light that gives this painting its little "somethin' somethin'" and aesthetic appeal………. I believe it communicates directly with your soul and is of even greater value than philisophical pondering. It is the art works that captivate us without our knowing why that strike the most essential chords of truth within us.Our responses to them are so deep, so sublte, so quiet that sometimes we don't even know we have responded, but the responses are cumulative and eventully that thing that is trying to loose itself, when touched enough times will crystalize and become a tangible prism of truth in our work and lives.

  21. I'm glad I finally found the like button. Food for thought. I enjoy it greatly. Personally, I like to mix both. There is beauty to find in everything. I don't know that they are separate.

  22. I agree with RichardGuest and Markalan: I know of artists who don't create art for the purpose of giving a message and even those who do sometimes create art for its own sake.

  23. One can definitely look at this well known picture with renewed admiration. Maybe it is so relaxing because it symbolizes pealing off the past and getting down to what's clean and fresh. It captured and froze a moment which is void of worries or superfluous thinking.

  24. Caillebotte set up a pattern, with an organic, almost bending path of light and partially cleared floor space leading to the organic designs in the window. The rest of the floor and wall patterns are more decidedly linear. This suggests a secular/religious divide. He even puts a small obstacle in the path towards the sole source of light. He balances the placement of the floor and wall patterns, as well as the men, and uses the sepia tones, as noted by another commenter. The pattern, balance, and hue supports a confirmation bias reaction to the quiet strength it depicts. (A confirmation bias can cause a "I like it but I'm not sure why" reaction.) He also paints his workers engaging in discourse, which is different than many romantic period pieces, such as those depicting women harvesting wheat in silence, or other industrial age motifs where the machine is the centerpiece. The wine bottle is interesting, and can either be viewed as an occasion for sin, which is why it is placed far from the window, or else it helps support a theory that the workers are servants of God, busy clearing the path, and the bottle is sacrament. Alternatively, these workers were stripping the floor down the hall from Caillebotte's sister's apartment, and were the only body study models available to the poor painter, he was riffing on the Dutch use of singular light source, and alcohol was often cheaper than water for thirsty workers. I know nothing about Caillebotte or this painting, aside from a date of 1875 under his signature, and only feel secure in my references to the patterns, balance, and hues, but it does seem heavy on the symbolism–once you get past the muscles.

  25. I love the picture…those workers seems to have plenty of time to have small conversations and also lots of time just to think while they are working! So many times I find myself thinking about my life and personal issues when I'm doing my routine every day…Anyway, I'm writing my thoughts right now…I can see the men in this paint working to bring the bread to their houses, to pay the bills…or simply enjoying what they are doing with their vision in the result of their labor!

  26. Yes!! This is one of my favorites as well. I was lucky enough to see it at the d'Orsay in Paris a few years ago. I was especially struck by it for its magnificent brilliance of light, the realism in its subject, and its size – it is huge!! Nearly floor to ceiling.

  27. To me the picture symbolizes: That underneath every dull surface is a shiny new one waiting to be found. I think there is hidden beauty all around us but I think we just need to open our minds and hearts to see it.
    I enjoy your writing a lot..

  28. Wow, I love this thought! I would say that because the skin of the men shines and is warm and rich like the wood, it both reminds us what we love about wood (how alive it is), and also how we are connected to the world and each other in a physical and spiritual way (maybe?).

    I always feel like beauty is enough for its own sake (perhaps there is meaning in beauty itself), but it is better if it is combined with a message – it is more beautiful when it means something, and the meaning resounds more fully when it touches a place of beauty.

  29. Not beauty in the form of definition, but principle. It's the only way to assert the definition into intellectual purposes.

    – Inked Pen

  30. In one of my graduate level courses we were discussing beauty and my professor recommended several books, of which I haven’t had the time to check out. One of the more interesting reads is “Art Objects” (verb, not noun) and it covers beauty in art. It has rather good reviews, so if you are interested in furthering your thoughts on the subject, you may give it a look.

  31. I read your words, stared at the painting and then looked up other paintings by Mr. Caillebotte. I like what I saw. It would move me to see these in real life. Since looking at them on a computer screen fills me with feelings and thoughts.

    "Hence today’s question. Do you believe that aesthetic appeal has the same value as tackling complex philosophical issues? Do we gain something from reading a few pages of beautiful writing, more than just the enjoyment of reading something wonderful.

    Does beauty mean more than what we can see?"

    My tongue is aching to speak, my mind is whizzing, trying to put into words what I want to say. So…reading at times moves me so much it hurts and I carry it with me always. I can say the same for beauty. Does this answer your question(s)?

  32. I think aesthetics comes from the same place as philosophy; the moment of moving beyond living into being alive.

    I agree with your placing the Floor scrapers on your short list. I see more in it the more I look; at the moment I am wondering if there is a reason for the leftmost to be perpendicular, or if it is just my mind seeking patterns.

  33. Absolutely yes. Reading a few pages of beautiful writing gives far more than just the enjoyment of reading something wonderful. There is engagement with the author, and connection with one's emotions. It saddens me when literature and beautiful art like the picture you have here are deemed 'non-essentials' in schools.

  34. I get what you're saying. Also, I love what you said "Not only that I don’t know why I like it so much, but I can’t even find a message behind the painting. I can’t dissect it the way that I like to do with other paintings." It made me smile.

  35. The painting beautifully captures a moment in time. You can't assess, disect, compartmentalise beauty, it just is. It doesn't only come from seeing, but feeling, being.

  36. Also one of my favorites – recently did my own post about it actually – loved the questions that you posed at the end. It's a fascinating picture for staring and contemplating.

  37. Something as simple as a single painting can make you think long, hard and deep about things in a way that philosophical issues cannot. Philosophical conversations require instant answers and thoughts; this, this allows your thoughts to meander and follow their own path. I like it :)

  38. I totally believe beauty is necessary to human life. That is why we love it so much.

    A world without beauty would not be a world worht living in. Beauty is touching, it moves us. In fact, to me, that is the definition of beauty. Whatever moves us, whatever reaches our heart is beauty.

    Beauty is truth, it is


    Thank you for sharing, I love the painting too…especially the wine! : )

  39. I have this inkling that the entirety of wisdom and life's secrets are found in beauty – in nature in particular. If you think about it, every piece of writing is a window into somebody's mind, every painting a bit of their soul so it stands to reason that many works of beauty put together create a whole. Your life is changed just a little when you read something that speaks to you.

  40. For me, this is where the idea of Yugen comes in. I think one can get as much value from art as from philosophy, if you're of the right mindset. In many ways, an artist is just another form of a philosopher – they take a look at the world around them and try to make sense of it! Especially since art is such a product of the time period in which it was produced, if you understand it's history, it can be a great teaching tool :)

  41. Christian, your question about philosophy vs. aesthetics seems to me to be a right brain/left brain dilemma. And of course both are necessary, are they not? In a balanced individual, that is …

    Beauty can give rise to deep contemplation, just as there can be beauty in philosophical meanderings.

    I LOVE this painting, as does my husband to whom I showed it. He is a builder born to Finnish parents, and has hand-scraped things meant to possess character, once done – just as his father and grandfather before him. That these guys in the painting are hand-scraping a FLOOR is simply divine. I would love to live in that hypothetical room, once finished!

  42. Absolutely!

    Both the visual and the verbal arts are enhanced by their diversity. Whose brain could bear to see or read nothing but heavy philosophy all day? We would have almost no audience in that case.

    Perhaps it is the true masters who are so good at their art that they create philosophy when creating beauty, doing it so surreptitiously that the audience never even realizes their thoughts have been ignited.

    For me personally, I do photography and art as an attempt to capture beauty. I write in an attempt to shed light on the shadows of our experience. My visual art is a lighthearted escape from the heavy toil of my writing.

  43. Is it a painting? just can't believe it, looks like a photograph. Very lively, beautiful. Thanks for sharing. I just can't find right word to express my feelings. Amazing painting.

  44. Now for your question, yes we gain more then enjoyment while reading good writing or seeing a good painting. It gives satisfaction to your heart, mind and soul. You are a writer please suggest a right word.

  45. Painted the labour and touched the mind's corner. watching them toil..on knees head down, whispering..tough to earn a living..poverty for sale..and the artist has captured it with strokes to please a rich man's eye. Sold. The art to strife.Half naked three men, sweating on knees, having not much to say..other than whispers or sealed lips..

  46. Think the reasons this picture is compelling can be applied to writing. The subject matter of this painting is not beautiful on its own. It is the way that it is portrayed that makes it lovely. That's what makes you take a few extra moments to stare at this image. The way the lighting spill across the floor and the lack of details on the men's faces. These things make us stare and take it all in. I think the same applies to writing. If you can write beautifully then even the simplest story causes you to take in the language and let it wash over yo.

  47. What strikes me about this painting is the story that is not being told. The story that pulls me in.

    Here's the story I see:

    This apartment is being remodeled; the last occupant has moved out and the next occupant has not yet moved in. The previous owner died. Or got married. Or got divorced. Or went into a nursing home. These young men are skilled craftsmen. They have seen many homes come and go. Many stories begun and ended. I suppose this apartment is in Europe rather than the US, because there is a bottle of wine on the fireplace, rather than a six-pack of beer. (Or is that just my silly romantic view of non-Americans?)

    Also, this painting appeals to all of my senses:

    I want to feel the still-varnished floor, the newly-exposed wood, the cool marble fireplace. I want to smell the freshly-sanded wood, and the old floor. These men smell good…with just a hint of the sweat that dampens their skin. I want to hear what they're saying to each other, even if it's in a language I can't understand. I want to hear the rhythmic scraping of the tools on the floor. I want to taste the wine.

    Oh hell. What was the question?

  48. I agree. If you haven't seen this painting in person, YOU MUST. The first time I saw it at the Musee D'Orsay this past spring, I was speechless, entranced, overwhelmed…I couldn't take me eyes off of it. I could get all "art history major" nerd on this, but why bother? The painting needs no analysis. It speaks for itself.

    I think that anything that really hits on your aesthetic "funny bone" is worthy of some level of acknowledgment in terms of "getting more" from the thing. Reading beautiful writing and reading something wonderful can intersect and often times do. It depends on how sensitive one's aesthetic funny bone is that will determine the level of pleasure derived rom the thing. Ok, that's enough armchair philosophizing from me.

  49. One person in my interior design class did an analysis of the painting based on its form and colors, and also researched on the background of the painting. Apparently some sociopolitical statement about the seen (elite) and the unseen (workers). I suppose meanings are only meaningful if they are your own, though.

  50. I don't know Cris, if there is answer to everything we ask.?

    For me personally, a painting has some undefinable value and beauty. Either we feel a sudden liking for a piece or we just walk ahead in a gallery.

    I am lost and cut from my world when I am standing in front of masterpieces like this one by Gustave.

    For me, aesthetics is mysterious..

    Painting is like giving beautiful SHAPE to a WORD called FEELING.

    And writing is a cluster of words with a beautiful shape.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Have a Good Day!

  51. I do think that beauty in and of itself has a value. Some of my favorite writers are people who weave words together in a way that leave me stunned with the magic of what they have created. I am delighted when I trip across a sentence in a novel or a short-story that is so powerful & beautiful that it could stand on its own.

  52. I believe you answered your question Christian. I think to me, it is just that. True art is in the nature of the time you do it. In that some projects and master peices take time, the work is beautiful for in which the amount of time to create a true masterpeice takes patience and time. Thus when you look at it with calm and quiet, it is astoundingly astute to assume its because the true beauty is the hands that made it. With calm precision and no time line. Happy writing and much love and ado's from a fellow love and art/music and writing.

    ~Ayaime~ Car.

  53. It’s the life that comes out of the painting that makes the beauty in these forms; here, workers working hard, with all the color tones of flesh.

    Vincent van Gogh painted flowers with bright yellow pigments that stand out even in low light, giving the impression that they are ALIVE.

  54. It's a great painting. If it showed just one person, I don't think it'd be very interesting. But people, working together at a very hard job, in a quiet room, too . . . yes, it does evoke something. They are doing a job that a wealthy person wants done, to simply change things. Such is life. It wouldn't be as interesting, either, if it showed three women dusting; doing normal sort of stuff to keep a room looking good. I wonder why? Lol, I guess if the women were shirtless, some might find it pretty interesting. Ha ha ha.

  55. Years ago, I was rushing to leave the Art Institute at closing time and came upon this painting in a gallery of the Caillebotte exhibition, which was closing that day. It is unforgettable. So earnest yet so beautiful!

    It's worth pondering the subjects artists chose for their great works in other times. This artist seems often to have chosen subjects that others people took for granted, like the appearance of pedestrians with their umbrellas on a broad Paris street on a rainy day. (A painting in the Chicago Art Institute.) It's astonishing to think of the time he then devoted to depicting such scenes in paint (when I think he originally captured them with a camera). Perhaps the meditative struggle involved in that work was itself part of the homage he felt ordinary human life was due.

  56. I believe it is like tackling a complex philosophical issue because as you’re looking at a painting you start to wonder what it is that made you attracted to that painting what message or detail was the one that connected you and made you entranced with it to the point that you can’t help but just stare at it. Whether there is some sort of Subconscious connection that you and the painter have that cannot be expressed in anything other than this painting.

    When you read something beautiful you do gain something more than just the enjoyment sometimes you gain a new perspective on life or of yourself. You gain the emotions that you felt that you might not have known you could feel or the feeling you once had as a child that you had long forgotten.

    Beauty is much more than what you can see it is what you feel how it hits you how it inspires you, it can touch you to a point that you feel inner peace or sorrow that the painter felt. Beauty is what you feel if you did not feel than it might not mean anything it is the way that it touches the soul that matters and sometimes the message it is conveyed that is the point.

  57. I used to have a print of this. I bought it in Paris. I left it behind when escaping with just a bag of clothes from a toxic life, and you've brought it back to me. Thank you!

  58. i love how simplistic it is. the work is hard on the body but they seem at peace with it. they're just right there in the moment. and the detail in the painting isn't overly done either. it leaves a little to the imagination.

  59. I love this painting!

    Do we need a reason to like something? Do we always have to explain ourselves? If I explained this painting to you, would you like it more? Just enjoy, and thanks for posting it, so I can enjoy it too.

  60. I believe that our perception and cognition are processes that cannot be completely described by algorithms. They are creative and that means that they can always extend into something new. Any description of them in terms of algorithms or formal theories can be broken. If we perceive something and there is nothing new in it, the perception is boring. If we successfully extend our cognitive structures to perceive something that was not covered by our previous knowledge, we have an aesthetic experience. The feeling of beauty, I suppose, is a feeling of successful extension of our perceptive knowledge. If what we perceive is too simple, we assimilate it without creating something new. Then it is boring. If it is too complex, we don't manage to assimilate it, and also do not have that "sense of achievement" of our perceptive system. If, however, we manage to successfully integrate the new into our existing perceptive knowledge, we are rewarded with this special emotion of beauty. So beauty may be seen as a side effect of very basic functions of our learning perceptive system. If is due to the creative nature of our cognition.

    The best works of art are so rich that they can produce such experiences over and over again. And the feeling of beauty marks a moment of growth of ourselves, so yes, we gain something when we experience beauty.

  61. I fell in love with this painting when I made my first foray into art history in high school. I don't know what it is about it, but it captured me.

    Then a traveling art exhibition passed through my home town. I walked into one of the gallery rooms, and my knees nearly buckled. A friend who was with me can attest that I leaned on her to keep from falling. I had no idea, going in, that The Floor Scrapers was part of that exhibit.
    I don't know whether or not you have seen this painting in person, but I found it mesmerizing. There were many amazing paintings in the exhibit, including works by big names like Cezanne and Renoir, but this is the painting that I could not leave. I don't even know how long I stared at it, and walking away actually hurt. It sounds like my reaction to it is similar to yours.

    You posit challenging questions. Here are my answers.

    "Do you believe that aesthetic appeal has the same value as tackling complex philosophical issues?"

    When confronted by something like The Floor Scrapers, I feel like this is the wrong question. In fact, I enter a state of mind where all questions are only irritations, and the idea of value only makes me laugh. And this is from someone who, in general, adores questions. Perhaps that reaction answers the question, but I can't be sure.

    "Do we gain something from reading a few pages of beautiful writing, more than just the enjoyment of reading something wonderful."

    We can, but only when one has the right gestalt of passage and reader. Writing is a blind partnership, after all, like any art. The Floor Scrapers may leave one viewer unmoved, while another stands in awe.

    "Does beauty mean more than what we can see?"

    Does it need to? I suppose the answer depends on what one means by "mean more."

  62. These are good questions.
    I think anyone who needs to justify the importance of beauty is missing the point and purpose of pleasure. I love this painting too.

  63. I really like this painting as well….seeing it for the first time here, to me it’s message is we’re all the same… shows strong men working hard, but they remind me of ballerinas preparing to perform…..lovely lighting as well.

  64. I haven’t seen this painting before and, not having studied art history, know nothing of the artist.

    It is captivating though.

    Perhaps it is the way the geometric lines of the floor boards and patterns on the walls (of the hall/church?) contrast with the piles of waifer thin shaving curls, the smooth muscles of the young mens arms as the light from the open door falls upon them as they work, or the ornate decoration of the wrought iron door?

    Maybe for me the appeal of the painting is enhanced because I love the smell and feel of wood as it is worked. I haven’t scrapped a floor, but I’ve done wooden treads, wall panels and furniture.

    As to your question, I’d say it depends on context. Sometimes yes. Sometimes no. Per your example, I may read something that has been beautifully written, but if I cannot relate to it, then I will not take anything more from it.

    Likewise, I may hear a brilliant piece of jazz music, but because I do not listen to or understand jazz, I just hear the sound and thus miss the nuances that make it remarkable, that a student of jazz would otherwise marvel at.

    Beauty is definitely more than what we can see. Ask a sight-impaired person to describe something beautiful! ‘Beauty’ is simply a word to describe what we feel in response to a stimulus.
    : )

  65. I remember a teacher showing us this picture in my European History class and telling us it was his favorite because it reminded him of his father. Ever since then I have loved it. You’re right. Beyond whatever potential meanings behind it, there’s something about of it that is just absolutely achingly beautiful

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