January 2014 Newsletter/The Eye of the Beholder

The President’s Palette

The Eye of the Beholder

We have all heard the adage, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” It is indeed. Out of a group of adults looking at the same painting, each one will have and may express different opinions on the beauty, or lack thereof, of the painting. The painting could even be the work of a famous master, and the opinions would not change. Why is that? What is it that causes one person to see beauty while another is indifferent?

I have just read the work “The Art Spirit,” by Robert Henri. The following quote from his book offers some insight into the reason.

“Thus two individuals looking at the same objects may both exclaim “Beautiful!” —both be right, and yet each have a different sensation, each seeing different characteristics as the salient ones, according to the prejudice of their sensations.   Beauty is no material thing.   Beauty cannot be copied. Beauty is the sensation of pleasure on the mind of the seer.”

Another seer could feel nothing while looking at the painting, again due to certain learned prejudices, the result of which is insensitivity. I was speaking a few years back with a relative of mine who lives a few miles from The Cowboy Hall of Fame and Western Heritage Museum, and asked him if he had been to the museum. He quickly exclaimed that he had, but would not go again because the museum held “just a bunch of pictures.” I am still amazed by that statement, but now have come to a better understanding of why it was made. The person was insensitive to the beauty of the paintings.

I recall reading, many years ago, an interview of Andrew Wyeth, wherein he admitted that one of his buyers had insisted that he be shown the location where the painting was created. Mr. Wyeth reluctantly agreed and, upon showing the buyer the location, the buyer was most disappointed. Mr. Wyeth stated that he would never again take a buyer to the location where a painting was created. What was of utmost importance to the buyer was that he treasured the painted view of the location that Mr. Wyeth had the artistic sensitivity to see and feel.

It all comes down to the sensitivity and sight of the artist.   Artists are the visual high priests of society. The public wants us to give them paintings that express a reality beyond the ordinary world. After all, they can see the ordinary for themselves, and want to be enchanted and thrilled by what we show to them. I have read that some artists define artistic vision as “seeing the truth about the scene,” “painting only the essential nature of the objects,” or “just being sensitive to what is really there.”

It is good to know and understand that the public has certain expectations of artists, and the nature of those expectations. We must continue to paint, even with the knowledge that we will get a mixed reaction to our work no matter how long we continue to mature as artists.


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