Susan's "subject matter, context and medium...present a coherent artistic vision"
John Torreano, Clinical Professor of Studio Art, NYU

"Great stuff. Love your work."
Seymour Chwast

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Monday, March 29, 2010

Beauty


Fairfield Porter (1907–1975), the American painter who successfully produced realist work in the midst of the Abstract Expressionist movement, wrote "When I paint, I think that what would satisfy me is to express what Bonnard said Renoir told him: make everything more beautiful."

When I painted in graduate school at NYU, I agreed with Porter and Renoir and tried to make everything I painted more beautiful, much to the dismay and chagrin of my professors and fellow students. They repeatedly told me that this was a flawed expenditure of my artistic energy. They explained that after I finished a painting, the painting was an autonomous entity, completely separate from me and my opinions–even though I was the one who created it. Even if It seems beautiful to me, there will come a time when the painting is viewed by someone else outside my presence. At that time, "beauty will be in the eye of the beholder."

Beauty is not judged objectively, but subjectively, according to the estimate of the beholder. This idea is a very old one (Theocritus). In addition, the beholder's estimation can be affected by whatever vision he brings to the painting. By this I mean not only his personal vision, arrived at through his life's experiences, but also his actual visual acuity. People see things differently as a result of their literal eyesight as well as the psychological "baggage" they bring to the painting.

Having been won over to this idea (that's what I had to do to get out of NYU alive), I have concluded that we painters should aim for transcendence of the signifier, not its beauty. We must capture and distill the spirit of our subjects in a meaningful and ultimately more truthful manner. Merely enhancing the subject is inadequate. An artist who is searching for beauty simply by reproduction of images is limited because no matter how "accurately" she paints, she can never exactly reproduce the original. The most obvious of many reasons for this is that she is trying to represent a three dimensional subject in a two dimensional format. So, by her own definition, she must always fail.

When a teenage girl, no matter how beautiful, has a pimple on her nose and looks into a mirror, she does not see a beautiful teenage girl. All she sees is a great big pimple. When a handsome, legally blind man looks into a mirror, even if the room is well lit and he knows he is handsome, he might exclaim "Who is that dark and fiendish, film noirish looking man." When a two scooped- ice cream sundae with hot fudge sauce, whipped cream, and a cherry on top looks into the mirror, it sees ........ well, you know the answer to that.

4 comments:

  1. I can not believe how fab your blog is! I guess I have to stop kidding you about your MA degree. I am very jealous. I have made the carrot/ice cream/mirror pic my screen saver.

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  2. Did you create this image, Susan? It is amazing!

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  3. Thanks, Jen. Yes, guilty as charged; I created it. It will probably be shown at Good News Cafe Gallery next year. Talking with them about it on Monday.

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