What if the sole purpose of creating art was to produce something beautiful? Most of the mainstream artists today don’t consider this option because the art that makes up our museums was put together as a means for getting a point across or for self-expression, not solely for beauty.
Paintings that wish to get a point across demand an audience because they lose all relevance without one. This often makes the authors feel dependent on fame and self-gain. On the other side of the spectrum, artists who create as a means of expression too often portray themselves and the world as they see it: ugly and dark. Because the two styles mentioned above are what the world consumes, we begin to emulate these values and are degraded by them.
But there’s another option — the art that is created solely for beauty. Such artwork doesn’t need an audience to have value, and it can take the brokenness of the world and look past the present grief it causes. Isaac Scharbach, an artist and a 2017 Mount graduate, reminisced, “The first time of many that I really recognized the beauty in art…it brought me from the verge of giving up on art to barely keeping up with all the things I wanted to make.”
When the selfish aspects of conveying a message and the dark elements to expression take center stage, it affects our perspective and goals. What would the world look like if artists — no, everyone — strove for something that was independent of zeitgeist, something that didn’t deny hardship but looked past the hopelessness; that strove for beauty.
But unfortunately, many artists don’t care for that. The painting “The Death of Marat” depicts a man bathed in soft, glowing light, lying apparently killed in his bathtub. Commissioned by the French to glorify the recently assassinated leader of the French Revolution, this painting was made to convey a message. But when this is the artist’s only goal, there is a demand for an audience. Where there is a demand for an audience, selfish ambition follows close behind.
Many of the works that artists created for expression aren’t much better. Jean-Michel Basquiat’s “Untitled (Skull)” represents the artist’s despair that he will forever remain a displaced Haitian immigrant. The patchwork, colorful human head appears scarred and bruised, bearing an expression of unconsoled hopelessness.
Paintings like these too often create patterns of negativity and selfishness. But what if instead of painting the murder of a political figure or a disfigured skull, artists painted the simple beauty of light playing in the folds of drapery or the joy of a child splashing in a mud puddle? I would love to see what such a change in perspective could mean for the world.