Abstract painter Cecily Brown is the current rock star of the modernist, big city painting scene. The intense flowing colors and large scale sensuality of her work both titillate and draw in viewer participation.
“Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.” ― Marcus Aurelius
In a society obsessed and dominated by image, it’s easy to forget what real beauty truly is, and more importantly, our ability to actually see it. As artists, beauty is something we’re always striving after — first, for inspiration and subsequently in the process and outcome of our work. How it’s defined may depend as much on personal taste as the context in which it is found. In order to create it we must know how to recognize it, both in the places around us and within ourselves.
“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.” ― Confucius
This is why it’s so important to focus on the positive, to look deep and wide for anything and everything that has even the remotest possibility of inspiring us and in turn, give meaning to our pursuits. Why does a man travel long and hard up into the Himalayas, into the dark, into the cold, exposed to a very real threat to his existence? The journey is sure to be arduous, with much time in near isolation, facing pain, difficulty and doubt .
Kyle Maynard is the first quadruple amputee to ascend Mount Kilimanjaro without the aid of prosthetics. His story and life is incredibly beautiful and inspiring.
Why be any kind of adventurer or artist when success is dependent on so much that is beyond our control? Because both the experience and the outcome are sure to surprise us. Or to borrow from the words of the Blind Seer, in Joel and Ethan Coen’s “O’ Brother Where Art Thou“:
“You seek a great fortune, you three who are now in chains. You will find a fortune, though it will not be the one you seek. But first… first you must travel a long and difficult road, a road fraught with peril. Mm-hmm. You shall see thangs, wonderful to tell. You shall see a… a cow… on the roof of a cotton house, ha. And, oh, so many startlements. I cannot tell you how long this road shall be, but fear not the obstacles in your path, for fate has vouchsafed your reward. Though the road may wind, yea, your hearts grow weary, still shall ye follow them, even unto your salvation.”
O’ Brother Where Art Thou, written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, is hugely entertaining comedy loosely based off Homer’s Greek Classic, The Odyssey.
Beauty, and thus art, is needed, for many reasons: to entice, to enrapture, to open up our ability and will to expose ourselves to the novel, the unusual, and the unknown. Only art has to the power to overcome our rational yet often times obstructive minds:
“The use of myth, parable, fable, allegory or metaphor has a long history in wisdom literature… Allegory has a way of bypassing the strictly analytical mind and showing correspondences between universals and particulars in a way that a logical exposition and literal interpretation never could. It uses the constraints of stories in time and space to point to truths which exist outside them; the realm of doing to illuminate the realm of being.” — David A. Beardsley
In many ways, art has been the very first form of allegory, a way to tell truths. It’s perhaps the oldest form of communication between generations — passing along tools for survival, history, tradition and culture. Through art, we tell stories of our adventures and of who we are. And to this day, it’s still more powerful than science despite the latter’s monumental advancements. The motivational power of numbers is limited, but that of image and emotion is boundless.
Akira Kurasawa knows the power of images. Few directors today have the understanding and control of movement that he had. His films can convey the most dynamic energy or the most sincere and rich complexities of the human heart.
“Art has a limitless power of converting the human soul—a power which the Greeks called psychagogia. For art alone possesses the two essentials of educational influence—universal significance and immediate appeal.” — Werner Jaeger
However, without beauty (and the appreciation of beauty) art loses its true power. Real art is personal. It can be strange or unexplainable but it doesn’t have to be grand or sophisticated. The nature of all art is that it’s unique, possible only thru the hands of its sole creator executed at a particular place at a precise point in time. This is what makes each work of art stand alone in history — it’s one of a kind. Where as technology (and it’s mass reproductive capability) loses is luster quickly, art’s staying power grows.
“There is no exquisite beauty… without some strangeness in the proportion.” — Edgar Allan Poe
The color vibrancy and bountiful fleshiness of Chaim Soutine’s work is a big inspiration to my own. Like all great artists, he was completely unique in his expression and execution. And limited acceptance of his artistry during his life time never stopped him from seeing and creating beauty.
Hence the need for an optimistic mind and a big heart. A strong mind is a productive mind — it focuses on creation rather than criticism, complaint or condemnation. No serious artist can afford to spend time on that which is not useful. We cannot worry about what people think, only what has yet to transpire.
“…if I paint what you know, then I will simply bore you, the repetition from me to you. If I paint what I know, it will be boring to myself. Therefore I paint what I don’t know.” — Franz Kline
To do so, we need to pay attention. There is beauty everywhere but it helps to surround ourselves with what we love: great books, fun films, moving music, gorgeous artworks, wonderful people. Artists should love nature, museums and architecture but also find joy and wonder in the the tiniest of things — things that most people pass by every single day without thought or acknowledgment. We cannot be so aloof.
A wonderful moment from Sam Mendes’ gorgeous film, American Beauty.
Again, it comes down to fulfillment. How do we want to spend our time? In search of beauty, occupied with learning, absorbing, creating and gratefully appreciating this wonderful thing call life? Or in passivity, waiting for things to happen to us, in the accumulation and consumption of things and activities that serve impatience or pride — all of which have limited impact or staying power? I think the answer is obvious whether by logic or emotion. Seeing and creating go hand in hand in the virtuous cycle that comes with being a true craftsman.
“Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy.” ― Anne Frank