November FEATURED artist
The Loss of Language
The Willful Loss of Ego
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The Search for Beauty
We must try, at all costs, to avoid the vacuum of insulated ease.
– Sidney Marsh Chase
When I was an undergrad art student trying to find my voice in art, I painted, drew, and sculpted realistically… searching for the beautiful. I rendered what I saw. I thought rendering through observation was art. That’s all I knew. My school taught me how to use materials, but very little discussion was encouraged about developing your voice. I was concerned with how something looked rather than how I felt so I pushed paint around the canvas until it resembled the object I was observing. Finally, I said to myself, “Is this it? Is this what I will do for the rest of my life … replicate objects in nature?” For me, the prospect was dismal.
I clearly remember the moment when my vision changed forever. It was in a Modern Art History class, and Gauguin’s “Vision After the Sermon: Jacob Wrestling with the Angel (1888)” appeared on the screen. On his canvas, Gauguin chose to place two wrestlers occupying a field of red. He chose red not for an observational reason, but for an emotional one. That was my aha moment. The world of art and emotion suddenly became open to me. Gauguin had made thoughtful, emotional choices, not observational ones. I could do anything I wanted!
Gauguin's After the Sermon, Jacob Wrestling with the Angel
I came to realize after that aha moment that beauty is a cultural construct and doesn’t exist as a universal concept. If it did, the standards for beauty would not be dependent on cultural expectations, but would be universally accepted. Beauty, and Western culture’s concept of beauty, has no place in art. Creating art is a life-long process to find vision and purpose, to discover something meaningful to say. Art worth thinking about is art about ideas; it is a thought made visual.
In 2006, I obtained an artist residency in Bulgaria. For 30 days, I was alone in a house in the mountains. I learned more about myself and art-making and art-visioning than I had in the previous 30 years. For me, simply making art is not enough. Oh, I had lots of work to show from those thirty years, just not a lot to say. My work didn’t hold together as a cohesive whole. When I returned home, I began to strive for an ego-less art, ego-less because my work now depends on ideas, rather than easily acceptable replication. Ego-less is intuitive making, rather than making aesthetic choices; it is giving and surrendering yourself to the work.
When we first start making art, we like to hear compliments. It’s easier to fulfill cultural expectations when you can paint a picture that looks like what you are observing...the vacuum of insulated ease. I’ve observed that mature artists make work for themselves. Less mature artists make work for everyone else.
Walt Whitman wrote, “All is Truth.” The search for truth, not beauty, is what drives my creative life and work. Truth, not beauty.