What is Beauty? The Definition
The dictionary definition of Beauty: The quality present in a thing or person that gives intense pleasure or deep satisfaction to the mind, whether arising from sensory manifestations (as shape, color, sound, etc.) a meaningful design or pattern, or something else (as personality in which high spiritual qualities are manifest)
The dictionary definition of Pretty: pleasing or attractive to the eye, as by delicacy or gracefulness.
For me, authentic beauty goes beyond the surface, touches upon the meaning or substance of a thing or person. Pretty is just surface “stuff”.
Questioning Beauty in Art
The question of beauty in art was brought up at an artist panel discussion I attended this summer. It is a question I often contemplate when describing my own work.
For those of you that have followed my blog or the underpinnings of my artwork for years, know that my intent has never been to create pretty pictures that match a couch, room decor or someone’s personal taste.
“Good Art Does Not Have to Match Your Couch” is a mantra I passionately expressed when teaching my college level art students and anyone else who would listen.
My intention when I first began my interest in art was probably to create a “beautiful” or “pretty” painting from the examples in my “how to paint” books. I failed miserably. It was not in my wheel house to recreate or be satisfied with that kind of beauty.
Curiosity and the Uncomfortable
There is a level of comfort in the beautiful or the pretty. If that is the response to a work of art, then it may not be asking for much more. That is okay.
Society often does not want to deal with more than the cosmetics, it is just too much for our 24/7 world. It is uncomfortable.
I get that. Picking our battles, simplifying our lives as a way to minimize the exhaustion we feel is a choice made in the name of self preservation or basic survival.
We choose to exist as opposed to live and ultimately to live in beauty.
Beauty requires more in depth introspection, knowing or wanting to know what is beneath the surface. Allowing curiosity and the uncomfortable to be part of living in beauty.
The Beautiful and the Ugly
As was discussed in this panel I attended, the artists agreed that if something has beauty it should honestly and authentically also include the ugly.
For an artist whose intention is to delve deeper into a subject or issue, the ugly needs to be present on some level as a counterpoint to the beauty portrayed.
Is it possible to see the ugly truth through beauty? Yes. Not denying ugliness and being aware of it, changes perception. Seeing, visualizing and/or experiencing the ugly gives the beauty greater weight and meaning.
As an artist, I have discovered that beauty is the curiosity of things. It has not been a comfortable discovery. But I have found that using beauty to entice a closer look into the ugliness is a way to gain better understanding of what truly makes something beautiful.
Taking a moment to pause, feel, reflect on the layers of beauty and unpleasantness.
As I create work in my studio, I go about it with little conscious intention. This may sound reckless and chaotic to many, but it is the only way I can get at the beauty and the ugly, which lay deep in my subconscious self. My unknown self. The self I am looking to uncover.
To draw out that truth, I must surrender all the cerebral mumbo jumbo clogging my creativity. I must get the hell out of my head.
The beginnings of my work are often full of reckless abandonment, a free flow of color, movement, and shapes. That initial energy is liberating.
Then I freeze.
Shit, what am I going to do next? The work is not complete, but I don’t want to ruin what I have so far.
That last sentence “I don’t want to ruin what I have so far” is when I must dig deeper and that it is not necessarily going to be pleasant. Part of the process may be to obliterate much of the work in front of me to achieve the depth of meaning I want. It could get ugly, chaotic and messy.
THIS IS THE MOST VITAL PART of my work. It is the absolute reason why I create.
The love/hate relationship with the piece begins here. When I hit that subconscious nerve, it becomes important to avoid making judgements.
Living with the Ugly
In order to avoid analyzing or projecting what “should” happen next, I have to stop, put the work aside, take a physical and emotional break. Live with the ugly.
The physicality and psychology of the act of painting is not often appreciated. The focus tends to be on the end product.
For me, the process is the essence of a work of art. It is the most intriguing part of the creating. The process is where the act of harmonizing the beauty and the ugly merge.
Walking in Beauty
In order for me to walk in the beauty of my life and work, I am learning to recognize the connectedness of everything that is me. Appreciating and embracing the unpleasantness is a vital part of the walk.
“Exhaling”, Acrylic painting 22″ x 18″. I chose this piece because of the many lives this painting went through before it got to this final state. The title is a metaphor for the act of painting, the process, which is to exhale and let go.