The Eye of the Beholder

When I was a kid, my dad gave me Masterpiece for my birthday.  It was a board game in the mid 1970’s much like Monopoly except that players bought and sold artwork in an auction.  I don’t remember playing the game even one time.  But I remember the game.  I remember the cards.  Each had a different painting on one side of the card and information about the art and artist on the other.  Renoir, Monet, van Gogh, Toulous-Lautrec, da Vinci, Degas, Pollock…the names were so exotic.  Their stories were tragic and even a bit naughty.  Their works were all so different.  I remember the Pollock best of all which is ironic since I first thought a ten year old could have done it.  There was something about it even then that drew me into the painting.  Perhaps it was the motion and the choas of reds and silvers splashed across the canvas. Perhaps it was just the effort I had to put in trying to make order and see something – anything – in it.  I also remember wondering what made it art at all.  How could Lautrec’s At the Moulin Rouge  and Pollock’s No. 5 be equally art. Perhaps if I had not been destined to be a science major (see my earlier post wherein I confessed this already), the question of what makes something art would be truly obvious.  I see now it is maybe less important to define art by what it is and more important to define art by what it does.  Art touches us deeply, viscerally.  It evokes emotion in indescribable ways.  I cannot explain why Hana Hamplová’s Meditation on Paper exhibit makes me nostalgic.  But I can smell the dusty pages and hear the crinkle as they are turned.  I cannot explain why Masséus’ Under the Same Sun makes me both sad and joyful. Perhaps it is the perfection of contrasting colors and the obvious carefree brotherly love juxtaposed to the horrific story of their lives.  Or why I just don’t get van Gogh at all (and I don’t think his missing ear makes his work more tragic or mysterious).

So how do you know if you created art?!  I know every parent thinks the finger paintings on their fridge are inspired and the hand print plaque is priceless (I personally have a couple of originals hanging in my office now that I would NEVER part with).  I know when I create a piece that moves me, it moves me not in my head but in my heart.  I hope someone else will have a similar reaction of course. But it is just as likely that someone will be completely unmoved maybe even dislike a piece. I don’t think we do our best work or live our best lives trying to please everyone else.  In the end, beauty really is in the eye of the beholder.  Create. Just create. Put what you love out there.  You cannot control how other’s will experience it. Cliff Fadiman said, “When you reread a classic, you do not see more in the book than you did before; you see more in you than there was before.”  I think the same is true with all art. We see ourselves in it. The more we look at it, we see more in ourselves than there was before.

This piece is one of my favorites.  What do you feel when you look at it?




First Frost
(30 sec., f/5.6, 1000 ISO, 18 mm)

Copyright Catherine Matthews 2017.

3 thoughts on “The Eye of the Beholder

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s