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It art really art? It depends

East Bernard Express of East Bernard, Texas

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One thing is for sure, in the 21st Century, you can't love everything that is art! Even if you really love art! Or especially if you really love art, as I do. There are times, when you look at a piece of contemporary art, and you think, "How can anybody love THAT!" Well, some say that art is in the eyes of the beholder, but I don't agree fully.

I've grappled with that ever since I first picked up a watercolor brush and an ink pen and declared, "I want to be an artist!"

The worst era I remember in the history of art was the 1960s or 1970s, with the anti-art art movement, which coincided with the anti-music music movement, perhaps both a reflection of the Theatre of the Absurd Movement. One example: a pianist comes out on stage and proceeds to chop up a piano — I don't know if that's anti-art or anti-music, or both. You don't even want to hear the other examples.

My taste in art, which is fairly broad, but which is not without boundaries, includes the French Impressionists and the Post-Impressionists. It took a long time before folks who liked and bought art in Paris would even take their works seriously. During all of their first exhibitions, their works were met with disgust, anger, laughter, and derision. "The children can paint better than this at school!"

I was an early fan of Vincent Van Gogh and Claude Monet, but I could list at least a dozen Impressionists who would get anything but a "gag" out of me. Nobody was buying any of Van Gogh's works until at the very end of his life. Whether it was part of his mental problems (some of his best paintings were painted in the asylum), or his love for God, nature, and common man during his years as an itinerant preacher, or some dynamic swirling force within his creative psyche and his intense instinct for color, I can't find a painter whose paintings I like better.

Paul Gauguin and Emile Bernard were leaders in a school of painting in Brittany which was called "The Pont-Aven School." Some of the best works coming out of this art movement had simple lines with little detail and color and movement which caught your eye. On the other end of it, the worst pieces of art which came out of this group would not interest me, not even enough to hang in my tool shed. There is simple and arresting and beautiful, and then there is simple and ugly and very ugly.

It's better not to go with art movements. Although I have many of Picasso's prints, and I get them out and study them, to learn from them, I find very few that I would want to hang on my wall, the one exception being the one line drawing of a camel, which I have on the front of favorite T-shirt.

There are those who say that art shouldn't have to be pretty, it shouldn't have to be beautiful, that even brutal and startling images can be art. Most artists might agree with them, but I don't, -- I think that the art I want to paint and want to buy and hang on my walls must be beautiful — and Picasso's camel is; I can't say as much for some of his paintings of women. I'm too old to care if this makes me old-fashioned.

In reading about the various bizarre

French art movements, I often wondered why they couldn't understand why anyone would want to buy one of their works. I put art on the walls of my studio and my house, because I want beauty rather than ugliness. I want a painting that I love to look at every day that I come into the room. Such is the case of a large watercolor painting of water lilies by the late Frank Gerrietts, a well-known Texas artist from Port Arthur. It's beauty continues to make me want to view it.

Imagine filling your walls with brutal, ugly art; I'd either take it down or move into another house. It's strange that these Bohemian artists hoped to "educate" the art collectors of Paris into why their paintings were true works of art.

No doubt there were people who didn't like the works of Picasso, for example, buying his paintings when he became famous because it was the "in" thing to do. So why do you buy a painting? As an investment? To show it off? To give the impression that you are "in the know" regarding art? I'm afraid that happens.

I see "amateur" paintings that are so good, you don't want to call them amateur. And I've seen "professional" paintings so bad, they weren't worthy of being called "amateur." All of us who love to paint and to look at beautiful art should be happy in doing what we do. I know some folks who don't even claim to be artists who paint some beautiful things. Who cares about Paris?

Ray Spitzenberger serves as pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Wallis, after retiring from Wharton County Junior College, where he taught English and speech and served as chairman of Communications and Fine Arts for many years.

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Original Publication Date: July 16, 2016

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