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April 26, 2008


Wonderful, thoughtful post, Beth. Your observations about the artwork on the walls of the home bring to mind one time when someone very close to me once suggested I should paint flowers. My reaction was one of shock and hurt though I tried to hide it. I thought she understood my art passion better. I explained that my work was more 'serious' than just making pretty pictures. But isn't that a problem many artists face, that so many viewers only desire pretty pictures? Your last paragraph says it so well for me, someone who has more difficulty with words than with images.

I almost worry a bit that the way I'm beginning to see beauty in so many and diverse things might start blinding me to whether things are good... so the unacceptable becomes acceptable, the unjustifiable justified; litter and decay and damage have started to become more visually interesting than typically pretty things. Also, that perhaps I'll turn away from and stop appreciating the 'normally' beautiful, and become blasee and unimpressed by flowers and sunsets and unspoiled landscapes. Then Iris Murdoch's quote - 'Anyone coming from a world without flowers would think we must be quite mad with joy to have such things about us'(may be misquoted).

Perhaps it's important just to keep a freshness of vision, and not lose the intensity of those things; blandness is the enemy, but then today's fresh and original will be tomorrow's trite and insipid, Monet, for example... Sometimes I almost wish I could go back to being satisfied with commonplace, pleasant things!

...sorry, didn't finish a sentence there: should read 'Iris Murdoch's quote... comes to mind'. Dopey.

Marja-Leena and Lucy, thanks for your thoughtful comments and the points you've raised. When I was first painting, I did paint flowers, and people loved them, just as the people in the retirement home gravitate toward their images of bouquets and sunsets and pretty impressionistic landscapes. Maybe as artists who've moved beyond conventional or literal ideas of beauty, we see these images as trite, but I find myself questioning my own judgments. Who am I to say that there is something wrong with the simplicity and directness of art that represents things universally judged to be beautiful, things in nature that ground us and make us feel better in spite of the drabness and difficulty of much of everyday life? As an artist I became tired with depicting those things realistically, but I still love and marvel at flowers, for example. Probably 90% of the people in the world, if asked to name something they find beautiful, would name the things we're supposedly rejecting as (literal) subjects! In photography the question is even stickier: photography looks at the world as it is, and the photographer isn't expected to "alter" or deny reality the way painters now are, though of course every photograph is framed and in some sense artificially selective. I don't know -- these are complicated issues!

There are artists, such as Richard Tuttle, who are quite eloquent on the subject of how their art practice is a way to self-treat their own neuroses, i.e. overcome their fears. Is fear, whether directly addressed, or avoided by distraction, the central subject of art? If so, is that why art is hung in hospitals? Is it why art students try to hide from "the real world" by going to art school?

I suppose not. I get carried away. Many things are interesting to behold in the light of fear.

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Who was Cassandra?

  • In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.