In Defense of Beauty
I have a question. I’ve had this same question for a long time. It’s about beauty. Why is it that the art world seems to gravitate to ugliness? The question may sound naïve but let me tell you a story….a rather embarrassing one.
After art school I was exhausted and sick of cities and went home to Idaho where I would make my living as a painter. The California art school taught me that it wasn’t so much how you painted as what you painted. It quickly knocked the idealized subject matter out of me and taught me to paint ugliness because that is what was recognized and accepted there. A beautiful scene or figurative work was severely disparaged. I clearly remember one prof coming up behind me as I was painting saying, “Well, isn’t that utsey cutesy?” I didn’t do that again.
So, I set myself up in a nice little tourist town in Idaho and began to paint. I painted the pain and ugliness of my childhood, not the beauty of the trees, rivers and mountains I had grown up with and loved. That was my heart. But I didn’t paint my heart, I continued to paint what I’d been taught was ‘good art.’ It was met with either polite silence or open dislike.
Understanding finally came when a wealthy art collector asked me to take a few of my paintings to his beautiful Sun Valley home. I was soooo excited! This was the break I had known would come. I carefully took my paintings, so full of my hurt and pain of my childhood into his serene, Asian-style home. I so believed what I’d been told about my work that I didn’t even see the jarring ugliness of them against the calm and peace of the home.
When I answered the ringing phone a couple of hours later, an angry man was on the other end of the line. “Why would you think I would want THIS ugliness in my home? Come get them immediately, they will be on the porch.” No surprise that I never heard from that man again. It was a very hard, life-changing lesson that I don’t think I fully comprehended at the time. Part of me knew the truth but for a while I defended my work thinking that area too rural and unsophisticated, etc. I moved around and finally traded my art for a regular paycheck doing graphic design.
But my spirit was deeply injured to the point that only now, some thirty years later, I am finally creating from my heart again. I recently discovered the poet, John O’Donahue’s writings about beauty. I listened to a podcast from a wonderful NPR program called “Being” narrated by Krista Tibbets. O’Donahue talks about creativity stemming from an ‘rich inner life’. This resonated with me and helped me re-examine my motivations during those years of art school.
I believe there is a place for using art to work through pain and suffering. And sometimes these become valuable documentaries of tragedy such as the works that came out of 911 or Katrina. But most people do not want to live with such work on their walls. In the same way, we cannot create art just to make money or to keep up with the latest fad. People tell me all the time that I should paint in this style or that because it is what the collectors or designers want. And foolishly, I sometimes try. But it seldom is successful. (To my mind this is different than artists having a line of production work is their ‘bread and butter.’ But even in the ‘bread and butter’ work there should be a continuity and thread of truth that comes from the heart of the artist. )
People need beauty and artists must find a way to present beauty that is good art. It must come from a rich inner life that is nourished with beautiful art, music and words. That is one of my main goals...to create with my heart.
Journeys…A Painter’s Reactions to Glass
Solo Show, Anne Nye
Friday October 4th 5pm - 9pm
Blue Pomegranate Gallery
6570 Maple Street • Omaha NE 68104
all images ©Anne Nye 2015