The process of creating beautiful paintings is ultimately connected to an artist’s own experience and understanding of beauty. Though most of us have heard it said beauty is in the eye of the beholder, perhaps, beauty is beholden in the subject itself. The beauty of nature most often cannot be denied: a glorious sunset of pink, orange and red hues over the purple mountains, or a majestic waterfall cascading in the lush, green rainforest. Yet, the beauty we experience in life also belongs to our personal entitlement and discrimination of what we consider beautiful. Two viewers gazing upon a beautiful painting may not agree it is beautiful. The beauty in art is not denied nor diminished as a result. One viewer has simply not been moved by what is beautiful to them.
When I was in art school, I was most intrigued by the diverse results of the same subject we painted. How could the same still life, a deep blue vase filled with drooping, yellow sunflowers on a green table against a lavender cloth draped backdrop, elicit completely unique interpretations by each of us? How could we each be seeing the same thing so differently? I found my answer within Robert Henri’s book, The Art Spirit. Henri explain that “Life and art cannot be disassociated nor can any artist, however he may desire it, produce a line of sheer beauty, a line disassociated from human feeling. We are all wrapped up in life, in human feelings; we cannot, and we should not, desire to get away from our feelings… In fact, lines are only beautiful to us when they bear a kinship to us.”
When an artist seeks to create beautiful art, the level of beauty which results, or not, in the work of art is a direct reflection of the artist’s feelings, and their strength of purpose for life. Henri further notes, “Because we are saturated with life, because we are human, our strongest motive is life, humanity; and the stronger the motive back of the line, the stronger, and therefore the more beautiful, the line will be.” Thus, not all paintings are beautiful. Beautiful paintings are a mirror for an artist’s journey into the depth of life, a signpost for where they have traveled into the realm of feelings, and their subsequent human experiences of growth and knowledge.
So what is beauty really?
For me as an artist, beauty is an inspirational portal to the higher spiritual vibrations above the mundane distractions and demands in life. Beauty nourishes my soul, feeds my connection to nature and offers me with a resting place wherein I trust in beauty’s essence to uplift humanity. Beauty is a welcome cool breeze in the heat of the day that brings relief. Beauty is my heart overflowing with love, my being delighted. The purity of beauty is necessary for my well being and growth. The words of my favorite poet, Kahlil Gibran, says it all for me, “I live only to discover and experience beauty. All else is a form of waiting.” Gibran defines beauty so eloquently, “Beauty is not a need but an ecstasy…a heart enflamed and a soul enchanted.” It is the radiating essence, from whatever the subject may be, that ignites our heart and soul.
And what is beauty in art?
Every culture in the world has always had a universal understanding of the need for art. It is even said the happiest and most productive cultures are those that support and participate in the arts. The art of creation, whether it is creating a work of art, a beautiful baby, an elegant home, an exquisite meal, a practical solution or an ingenious innovation, brings us closer to the creative force behind and within all life. For those engaged in the fine arts, the journey into creation involves a passage into uncharted waters to uncover truths about life and being human. Beauty is one of those truths, difficult to define, yet necessary to know and understand. Every artist will incorporate their interpretation of beauty into art based on the journey they have taken. Perhaps some artists will reveal the more forbidden qualities of obscure beauty while others attempt to capture the enlightening purity of beauty. These are all worthy journeys into the meaning of beauty, and the art which results as a reflection of the human feelings experienced along the way. Is the painted image of a suffering child beautiful? Only if the artist has imbued the suffering child with the strength of a universal quality such as the beauty of humanity’s connection through suffering. An image of a suffering child can crack the heart wide open and lead us into the depths of compassion. It can lead us to the beauty within ourselves. As the insightful, deep words of Gibran express, “It is not the image you would see…but rather an image you see though you close your eyes.” He sums up his answer to Beauty with,“Beauty is life when life unveils her holy face. But you are life and you are the veil. Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror. But you are eternity and you are the mirror.”
Beauty in art is not so much the actual image we see as beautiful, but the feelings it invokes within us. Beauty is the voice that speaks to our connection with our own inner beauty. The beauty imparted to an image may speak to some and not others. The beauty may be there, nonetheless, waiting to be seen and felt.
To be moved by beauty is to feel life with all it has to offer. Beauty commands our attention when it appears, and stirs in us the desire to bathe in its essence. The creation of beautiful paintings is an invitation by the artists to see, and feel, beauty with new vision, to find beauty in every crack and corner of the human experience. To appreciate art is to participate in the artist journey to reveal a truth…a gift that is present all the time if we are present with the eyes to see and heart to feel.