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“…That there could be art without beauty is preposterous. The artists who imagine that they can accept or reject beauty have obviously never known the power that beauty wields.” -Jed Perl, The Beauty Trap

Beauty is a touchy subject these days. Make something beautiful, and its integrity is questioned. It is only when art shuns beauty and traditional aesthetics that it is hailed as worthy. Let me back off for a moment and admit that, perhaps, I am being too critical. Artists have some appreciation of craft. But it isn’t embraced; it is an option. Craft, for an artist, should not be optional. It should be a necessity. I applaud concepts and am interested in ideas, but I am more interested in beauty. My favorite artists are the ones who move me emotionally, and on a level that is not able to be picked apart and deciphered, at least not completely. There is always something within their pieces that I cannot describe or completely understand. And I get the sense that the artist was wrestling with something within herself, she was making art to discover something about herself, not to communicate something explicit and one-dimensional.

Looking at the variety of other art forms that exist, it appears that visual art is the only form where bad equals good. Within writing, authors are judged by their ability to manipulate words and juggle sentences, where no matter how modern the writing appears, basic craft and beauty is a priority. Nobody wants to read writing that isn’t beautiful, even if it is only beautiful in an ugly way. Music is the same. Talent is defined by a musician’s ability to handle an instrument, to piece together chords and generate something new, exciting, and pleasing.

I am not railing against the usage of ideas and the illustration of concepts. I am simply asking that artists consider utilizing their artistic talent and creating something that is visually stunning to draw in the viewer. Then, by all means, caress the intellect and whisper ideas and philosophies, but do it gently. Prettily. Pleasingly. The result is much more layered and lasting than an artist’s statement could ever convey.

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One Comment

  1. I have struggled with this question for quite some time. On any given day, I will make a different argument. I think, however, that the equation that art has to be physically well crafted to be good is not quite right. I do not deny the transcendental aesthetic experience in the presence of something that moves me by its beauty, but I think the danger is to equate beauty with the physical attributes of an object. The beauty of an object can as easily be in its concept as in its physical form. For instance, Scott Tyler created an installation at the Chicago Art Institute entitled, “What is the proper way to display the American Flag?” The artist invited the viewer to comment in a book placed on a ledge, but to get to the book you had to walk on a flag laid out on the floor. Walking on the American Flag is a felony, and I believe one viewer was arrested and charged for doing this. This installation was powerful and resonated on many different levels, both emotional and intellectual. That, to me, defines “good art.” Yet the physical craft of the installation was irrelevant.
    I guess that what it amounts to for me is that the craft of a piece of artwork should be invisible. To achieve this, there has to be a perfect match between craft and concept. As soon as I start paying attention to the craft (either positively or negatively), in art, writing, and music, I am no longer paying attention to the concept. The idea is the golden kernel, for which the visual art, textual art, or aural art is only the delivery system. Maybe.


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