Fresh Insights

Why Beauty Matters

If you were to study art, from simple cave drawings to the ingenious taping of a banana to the wall, you might realize that for all the thoughts of Duchamp, beauty in art has been ravaged by modern artists.

Once pigment was discovered, the world of art blossomed. The following addition of metal tubes filled with premixed hues expanded the artists capabilities. One could work en atelier or en plein air creating paintings that followed tried and tested techniques. The color wheel was important. How color was used was important. The placement of one hue next to another was important. The silent language of the colorist captured us emotionally and spiritually.

I have grown up in a world of fine art. As a child, I studied the work of Millet and DaVinci as well as the works of Rembrandt and Botticelli. A bit later in life, I was exposed to Manet, Monet, LauTrec and Renoir. This was soon followed by an immersion in VanGogh and Cezanne. I revelled in the darks of the Renaissance, the quick urgent strokes of the Impressionists and the almost abstract works of the post-impressionists. This was my world.

Color and it’s use became a lesson in and of itself. Oh, it is one thing to look and appreciate. It is easy to get lost in the message. The birth of Christ or the death of Christ have both be depicted thousands of times. Each with it’s own message of hope. For years after the discovery of ultramarine blue, it was only used in depictions of Mary, a symbol of purity.

At the beginning of the 20th century, color could be found in watercolors and acrylic paint. Creating art took a bold step into the hands of amateurs and professionals. The world was changing. The industrial revolution was well on it’s journey to a more modern form of art and color usage. There were threats of war and there were wars. The sharing of news grew more and more with each passing day. Us vs. them became the battle cry of every artist. Punk rock was the audio version of DuChamp’s views on art.

A world that once revered “The Birth of Venus” was now being called upon to find beauty in a urinal bowl. Critics and public alike were captured by the attempt to find “beauty” in everything. Jackson Pollack tossed and splattered willy nilly on a canvas and the world felt obligated to herald his offerings as pure unleashed beauty. There was no beauty, we were told this is beautiful and he was declared a genius. This assault continued with Andy Warhol’s work depicting Tomato Soup cans as genius. Art was taking a treacherous turn from beauty to mundane.

Then we reached the ridiculous and praised a lego like complex painting on buildings in Europe. Tagging, a juvenile attempt to claim something, not much more artistic that a dog peeing on a tree, became “art”. Even worse, a banana taped to a wall was heralded as genius. No beauty, just an ordinary banana taped to a wall. Commercially successful, it brought a high price, but definitely not beautiful.

I am well aware that “Beauty is found in the eye of the beholder” but our ability to behold is highly influenced by the opinion of others. Abstract art that once did have a purpose has been replaced by thousands of pieces that are merely areas of paint placed at random on canvasses. Each viewer afraid to ask, “What is that?” for fear of being seen as uninformed or unable to appreciate the piece. There is beauty in color thoughtfully placed on a canvas. When just applied willy nilly on a canvas, any beauty is an accident rather than the intent of the artist.

A beautiful piece of art is easily determined. You know it when you see it. Walk through any museum. You will see work that is beautiful. You don’t need a set of earphones and a recorded guide. You look. You know. Visit the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. Visit the Museum of Modern Art in New York, NY. Visit the musee D’orsay in Paris, Fr. I could go on and on. Visit and you will see beauty. All styles and techniques and each is beautiful. I have been fortunate. I have visited museums in DC, Paris, New York, Italy, Spain and the Hague. I have stood before “Starry Starry Night”, “Girl with a Pearl Earring”, “Impression Sunrise”, “The Angelus”, several of “Mont Victoire”, “The Last Supper”,the list is long and lovely. I did not need a guide to let me know I was before genius in beauty.

Color is the oldest tool in the art of long lasting conversation. Beauty is the flavor that enriches that conversation. I encourage you to click on this link and view a one hour documentary Why Beauty Matters. It goes a little deeper than I have been able to share.

No offense given to those that are lost in what’s hip or those that are lost in the dream that everything created is art. Not a snob here. I am a realist that refuses to believe every crude attempt at shock value is not really art. True art stands the test of time. Urinals and bananas eventually are lost to destruction or consumed orally. I mean put a banana taped to a wall next to a Rembrandt and you will immediately see the beauty in one and the absurd in the other. Put the urinal next to David and you will have no doubt which is art and which is shock value crap.

Seek beauty and you will find it. Do not allow the crowd to turn you towards the hip and “look at me” drivel that fills the gutters of our world.

Feel free to support my writing and art. Visit my page.

By John MacArthur

Life long DC area resident artist

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