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.

Fresh Insights

Alex ain’t the only one with ROOTS

Hi, I’m John or JMac. Anyway why me and more importantly why art?

Art came alive for me when I was in the first grade at Sacred Heart in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood of Washington DC.

It was a very pleasant morning and the students were taken outside and assembled on the playground. The head nun announced “Today is relay day” and everyone cheered. Each teacher assigned a student skill evaluation to their pupils. I am not sure. I was in the back. Always at the end of the line. Always. I was assigned the 50 yard dash. There were two divisions, group A and group B. Group A was boys first thru third grade and group B consisted of boys fourth through sixth grades.

I was the chubby boy with a limp in Group A. Pristine in our crisp white shirts and tan slacks, each heat tore down the alley. Just past the finish line, Sister Mary Patrick was waiting to declare the winner.

My opponent didn’t know. Hell, none of the students knew.

I knew.

I was in position to blow by blondie and win going away.

Nobody knew. Not even the penguins.

A few short years prior, I was involved in an accident that almost cost me my life. A fall on a Maxwell House coffee can had severed my right leg just below the knee cap. Miracle working doctors and nurses at Old Children’s Hospital on 13th Street stitched me back together again. Minimal prognoses for walking without a limp and next to none for galloping past blondie a few years later.

But I did.

My art is borne in that place where challenge meets quit and color dances between light and dark.

I did.

First prize? A rosary and a free book from the library, “Charlotte’s Web” by E.B. White. Peppa Pig has nothing on this story. A story with color illustrations was amazing.

My first art challenge, draw and copy all the illustrations. Remember, I had spent the better part of a year with my leg in a cast. I had nothing to do except color on the newsprint my father would bring home. Early education is fertile if spread across a receptive field. My little mind was about as fertile as one could be.

I learned.

The work here ranges between work done in the late 80’s to the present. It all found genesis in the heart of the little boy with the limp.

Sure, I still have this remnant of my youth. As I look, it appears to be a mix of “Starry Night” and “War of the Worlds”. As a 10 year old, I was limited in ability to express that, so I called it “Scary Starry Night”. What became of it? It’s hanging on the wall ten feet away in my studio. What became of the boy? The jury’s still out.

All that is left from that little boy………..

“Scary Starry Night” circa 1956
Fresh Insights

Plein Air Painting (part 1)

  So, you’ve decided that the weather is nice and you would like to venture out and paint. En plein air is a phrase used to describe painting outdoors. The very thought of standing out there, attempting to create a masterpiece ( or at least something that will not bring laughter), quite “naked” can be intimidating. I know that I was lucky. I began plein air painting at a very young age. I used berries and tea. Nothing created lasted long enough to hang on a refrigerator door much less be framed and hung. I painted because it was wonderful to be outside and attempt to replicate the world around me. 

     The practice of plein air didn’t really take off until tin paint tubes were created. It made it easier for an artist to take his tools outside. The world of plein air started with the Barbizon School and then exploded with the Impressionists and the Post-Impressionists. Art aficionados are familiar with Constable, Bonnington and Turner. The world knows Monet, Manet and Renoir. Almost everyone has seen a replication of a VanGogh or Cezanne. Plein Air forever changed the landscape of the art world. 

     Your experience will be greatly enhanced if you show up prepared to paint. Sure, you need canvas, paint and brushes but what else will make your day smoother? I have some suggestions, things I have learned through years of experience. I have painted in all types of weather and dealt with all the perils of being in the elements. I have realized there is a happy medium between bringing all you need and bringing everything you can carry. Pack it all but pack light.

     What do you need? First, you will need pochade box or plein air easel, paints, a drying box to keep your paintings from touching each other while they are still wet, an umbrella for protection from the sun. Sounds like a lot and it could be if you just blindly began assembling supplies. In the beginning,  you may wish to use a “French Easel”. It is a pochade box, easel and place for paints and brushes all in one. You can go to Amazon and find one or you can go to Jerrys Artarama and review what they have. (I am a big Jerrys Artarama fan)  There are several products you can purchase to carry wet easels. Now this is only an issue if you are painting with oil. Acrylic and Watercolor dry quickly and they are easier to transport back to your home/studio. I have found that the best wet paint carrying device is a used pizza box. I prefer Ledos because they still use the old sturdy pizza boxes. The flimsy cardboard boxes just don’t work as well.

     It is important to understand that you will be outside, possibly for a few hours. Choose your location with a few things in mind. One, who will paint with me? It is a good practice to always have a “plein air partner”.  If you have to leave your spot, you really don’t want to have to pack everything then return and unpack everything. It is a sad commentary, but being alone in a secluded area is just is not safe anymore. 

Two and more, where is the nearest public restroom? How much foot traffic or motorized traffic is close by? Is there parking? Do I have permission?

     Know the weather!!! How cold or hot will it be when you are outside? As Clint Eastwood famously shared, “A man’s got to know his limitations.”  In the sun, you need a hat and if possible a stationary umbrella. It will keep you cool and the umbrella will reduce glare on your canvas. Sunscreen and bug spray are an absolute necessity. You can get so lost in the process, you won’t realize you are baking or that maybe a mosquito is feasting on your leg. Protection is called for! Free heads up – cold and warm, wet and dry are all manageable. Wind is not your friend. If winds are forecast to be 20 mph or greater, it may be a better day for yard work or watching a movie. Wind is not your friend. Over the years, I have had many easels blow over, paintings go sailing or entire palettes splash to the ground. Avoid the pain. Wind is not your friend.

     So there is the first “talk”. Next time, I will go into a bit about the process.

As always,

Art on!!