This essay is a summary of my artist talk in New York City titled “Why Beauty” at the Art Quilt Gallery on September 11, 2012.
“Beauty is something we experience and feel on a soul level. It’s more than being pretty or aesthetically attractive – it’s an intangible attribute that stirs something deep inside of us” – Karen Walrond.
During a talk at the Denver Art Museum, El Anatsui, a wonderful African artist, was asked “Is your art beautiful by design” and he said “no”.
My answer is a resounding Yes. I am relentlessly pursuing beauty with my artwork.
I started down this path in a era when painting had been declared dead. The art world was firmly planted in postmodernism, cynically claiming everything had already been done.
My pursuit of beauty placed me firmly out of step with the postmodern art world where concrete experience trumps abstract principles.
There is no essence in postmodernism and hence the concept of beauty isn’t relevant. Beauty is an archaic throw back modernism.
I struggle with this. I was pulled internally to pursue beauty yet the world was saying Where is your Content? Ideas mattered, not the physical manifestation of those ideas.
And so I hunted for content because that is what artists did.
Yet the more I made the work and reflected upon my intention, the more I understood the artwork was much more personal and much more about imagined barriers and walls in our head. Our fear of not being enough, of not being loveable if someone were to see who we really were. Those are the walls my Structures series explores.
With the reassurance that I had content – I had the all important ideas – I went right back to pursuing beauty.
At the retrospective of Ocean Park paintings at the Corcoran a few days before this talk, I read this quote by Richard Diebenkorn:
“Now, the idea is to get everything right â€“ itâ€™s not just color or form or space or line â€“ itâ€™s everything all at once.â€
It immediately resonated with me. That is is – that is what I am trying to do!
I am looking for that illusive perfect “rightness” in my artwork. That intangible quality that makes the viewer say “wow”.
I have my ideas to fall back on but the reality is – beauty is what matters to me.
Yet 11 years ago today, on September 11, 2001, postmodernism was declared dead.
Turns out that most of the world still cared about God, truth and the law. Turns out that the â€œhostility to grand narrativesâ€ was a pursuit of the western metropolitan elite, a minority.
The age of irony was declared dead.
We are now in the age of the internet, of technology. Materiality is back in!
But alas, there is no relief for those pursuing beauty. We are supposed to be pursuing technology. Abstraction remains old fashioned.
At a well respected juried quilt art exhibit last year a juror bemoaned the lack of computer do-dads on the artwork. And indeed innovation does matter in art.
But yawn. Seriously.
I’ve been in the computer science field since 1982 and sent my first email in 1984. In graduate school in the late 80s we had a coke machine hooked up to the internet. Today we would call that art, but back then we just wanted to know if the soda was cold enough after reloading the machine.
Technology bores me. While others might find it fun to put flashing lights on their textiles I fall asleep – been there, done that. It hardly feels like innovation. I didn’t find it interesting on a circuit board in 1985, so I sure don’t want to wire up my art and call it new in 2012.
So again I’m out of step with the art world trends.
I Pick Beauty
And to that I say… so what. I ignore this noise because art is an internal journey. Iâ€™m happy to be a throw back to modernism.
Although there are rumblings of the return of abstraction (look at what the galleries in Chelsea are showing, there are a lot of color field exhibits these days).
So maybe someday I will be cutting edge again. Or maybe not.
Either way it doesn’t matter because over time I’ve gotten over the need to defend my choice to pursue beauty. Instead I’ve learned to trust myself, trust my process and trust my voice.
I personally believe people are growing tired of artwork they don’t understand, of all the ideas. We are all sick to death of facebook and technology.
I feel there is desperate search for simplicity and a return to a slower pace. Handmade is back in vogue.
And from that context: from my granola eating, yoga stretching, organic home gardening ways…
I will continue to relentlessly pursue beauty.