Saturday, November 3, 2018

In Praise of Pretty

What's not to love about lovely? Why not want to surround yourself with beautiful things?

A while ago an influential individual in the local art scene remarked to me about an artist we both know. He said that their work, up to fairly recently, had been among the sort of "pretty pictures" that he often sees across his desk, but that recently the artist had "upped their game" to a new level. While I agreed that the artist had indeed matured in their medium, I was left with a sour taste in my mouth as I walked away from the conversation. What's wrong with pretty?

Death of Marat by Jean Louie David
Yes, there's a morbid beauty in David's Death of Marat, along with a healthy dose of political  commentary. And there is no doubt in the emotional impact Edvard Munch brought to the canvas with The Scream, especially now. I feel that way when I turn on the news these days.

The Scream by Edvard Munch
There are countless other noteworthy examples: Picasso's screaming bulls' indictment of war in his awe inspiring La Guernica, Michelangelo's pathos laden Pieta and just about anything by Francis
Bacon or Heronimous Bosch. All beautiful in their power and ability to elicit strong emotion.

But sometimes, actually most times, I prefer to surround myself with things that please me like a vase of dahlias or a bowl full of tomatoes or a cat purring on my lap. I thrill to the mastery of John Singer Sargent's palette.
Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose by John Singer Sargent
Or the meditative calm of Mark Rothko's intimate yet monumental canvases.

Blue Green and Brown by Mark Rothko
And I am calmed by the serenity of Jan Vermeer's interiors. I have not visited the Met if I haven't spent a few minutes in front of this painting.

Young Woman With a Water Pitcher by Johannes Vermeer

So please forgive my flowers, my happy children and the cloud filled skies of my landscapes. I rather like pretty.

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