I had a pretty knee jerk reaction to the Brooks placard I read yesterday. I still think it has a dismissive attitude to landscape painting, seeming to suggest that the work has to be extraordinary to overcome the genre. A couple of people on fb asked for a fuller context than the phrase I quoted. Here is the relevant paragraph:
I do still think it's a bit dismissive of landscapes, seeming to say that to be a success, a landscape has to transcend the genre. But I got a lovely letter back from Emily Neff, the new head of Brooks, and she assures me that they greatly value landscapes and also that Veda got to read the text panel before it went up, and that she was pleased with it.
I had a bit of this discussion with Matt Matthews, a seminary prof at Memphis Theological Seminary, where I'm artist in residence, and a landscape photographer in his own right. He sent all kinds of reflections that are way above my level of discourse, but what really resonated with me (as he was speaking about modern art trends) was this:
"Modern art often regards the idea of beauty itself as suspect -- a bourgeois sentimentalism amidst the real world of alienation and pain. Or when it does acknowledge beauty, it sees it not as an inherent property of things but as something generated ex nihilo out of the artist's inner world. Again, I don't accept the implicit assumptions here. I think beauty is real, objective, and part of the structuring of the universe. Artistic skill is used to intensify and witness to this inherent beauty. Finally, it assumes beauty is there solely to give us pleasure. While pleasure is surely at the core of aesthetic experiences, there's far more. Beauty transforms us (especially over time), opening is to a different form of comprehensive awareness and a different way of relating to all of life. I believe this transformation involves ego abandonment in which the hegemonic self loosens its grip of control on the world and is brought into a relationship of interdependence, delight, and honoring the "others" that we encounter.
"To cast this in theological terms, beauty is Logos let loose in the world, aesthetic experiences accumulate to disrupt our idolatrous drive to control and manage the cognitive domain, and artists are witnesses pointing to and participating in beauty."
My calling has always felt, in part, that it is to wake people up to the beauty around them that it is so easy for all of us to take for granted, in the hopes that we will also be moved to be good stewards of that beauty and the earth we live on. I love Matt's idea of beauty as transformative and artists as witnesses to it and participants in it.
You can see Matt's own photographic beauty here.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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