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Friday, March 19, 2010

Beauty Is in The Eye

(Note that this painting was "cropped" and the sunflowers became my masthead. The article below discusses why this can be a good thing.)

We've heard it all our lives--"beauty is in the eye of the beholder." This saying was never more true than when I discovered a petrified cactus on the desert floor in Phoenix, Arizona where I lived for several years.

During the winter, I liked to take long walks in the desert. If you've never seen the desert in January and February, you're missing an incredible sight. In the milder winter temperatures, the desert comes to life. The sandy terrain sprouts into a thick carpet of grassy clover and turns the normally drab browns into radiant greens. The cacti begin blooming, dotting the burgeoning scene with splashes of pinks, yellows, reds, and blues; breathtaking!

In the midst of this color, a dead cactus, brown and forlorn, caught my attention. It's arms were arranged in graceful twists and turns, as beautiful as any marble sculpture I could imagine. "God's handiwork," I quipped; and decided to bring the orphaned cactus home to grace my flower garden.

I mentioned my unusual sculpture a few times to friends, family, and neighbors. I must have described my find in such detail and with such embellishment that soon I had visitors who came just to see my "heavenly" sculpture. I chuckle now, as I remember their disappointment at seeing this dried up piece of wood that once was an elegant cactus. To me it was still beautiful, but to those who saw through a prism of their own experience, it was a disappointment.

Today I get that same reaction with some of my favorite paintings, especially the ones that I cherish because of the blood, sweat, and tears, that went into them. My favorites are the paintings that sometime draw this reaction: "Eh!," and a shrug as the viewer walks away. Beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder.

My grandfather cut his thumb off long before I was born. He tangled with a paper cutter during his years as a school teacher. Although he showed his granddaughters the missing thumb, and warned us about the dangers of paper cutters and knives, we never looked on it as a disability. It was simply our Grandpa's hand. The lack of a thumb made him unique and adoring. Whether he had a thumb or not didn't make one whit of difference. To us he was beautiful.

Artists frequently fret about whether their work is acceptable or compliant with the constraints of accepted color and composition norms. And yet, those artists who achieve acclaim are the very ones who dare to cross the line; the ones who boldly walk from the cutting edge and into the limelight. In the end, their experimentation and creativity triumph.

So to you artists out there--take a deep breath, and dare to be different. Some people will love your work, others will criticize it. Beautify is indeed subjective; enjoy the moment, create while you can!


"Waste Not Want Not"
Next time you damage a wonderful watercolor painting by creating a dark removable smudge, or by blending a color that ends up looking like mud, don't throw it away! Take a small 4x6 or 8x10 mat and place it over different parts of your painting. Sometimes a beautiful mini-picture emerges. Cut it out and turn it into a print or a greeting card. If nothing else, tear your painting into strips and give the strips away at art shows as original book marks. People will be impressed, and everyone loves a free give-away!

Acrylic and oil paintings can be salvaged in this same way by using online photo programs. Crop the good parts and turn them into prints or greeting cards. Don't let anything go to waste. If worse comes to worse, sand off and repaint an old canvas that didn't sell and start over again.