There’s an old saying, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” I think that not only pertains to life but also to art as well.
Let me be the first to say I am not an art expert in any way, and I won’t pretend that I do know much about that world. But I know I appreciate it, admire it, enjoy seeing it, but sometimes I just don’t understand it.
When Papa and I visited the Carnegie Museum of Art, where some 32,000 pieces of art consisting of paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings, photographs, and plenty of other visual art and objets d’art as well are displayed, I found some artwork beautiful and inspiring, some just was not my cup of tea.
Many years ago, when I worked as an arts and entertainment reporter/editor for a daily newspaper, I wrote a feature article about an artist who had become a resident in our city. Gebre Kristos Desta was an Ethiopian modern artist and poet, who arrived in the United States as a refugee from his native country’s socialist regime at the time.
Kristos, as he asked me to call him, had studied art in Germany, returned to his homeland, and had been well received by the Ethiopian emperor during the 1960’s and 1970’s. He became a teacher at the university in Ethiopia’s capital city, Addis Ababa, but when the emperor was overthrown and socialism became ensconced in his country, Kristos was pressed upon to create political propaganda that he didn’t agree with.
In the late 1970’s, he defected from his native land and sought asylum in Germany. Denied refuge there, he eventually gained political asylum from the United States. In 1980, he arrived in a place that must have seemed quite foreign to him – the plains of Oklahoma.
I remember visiting with him at his tiny apartment with my co-worker, one of the newspaper’s photographers, and noticing how little Kristos possessed in his meager surroundings. As we talked, I soon realized what he had endured just to be free from persecution and free to express himself through his paintings in whatever ways he was inspired.
In the short time he lived there, some local art patrons embraced him and his work purchasing his abstract expressionism paintings. He was invited to hold an art exhibit as well. Sadly, within a year or so of my interview with him, Kristos passed away at the age of 50.
Through internet research, I’ve learned that a museum, funded by the German government and devoted to this artist, now exists in Addis Ababa where Kristos’ paintings that had previously been stored in Munich are now displayed.
Back then when I met Kristos, I was not well versed in the art world, and while I could appreciate the paintings he showed me, I truly didn’t understand them. But I could sense the emotion he poured into his work and my memory of this soft-spoken, articulate man who sacrificed so much just to gain some freedom is what remains.
Now, some 40 years later, I’m still not very knowledgeable about art, but I do recall some of the famous artists of the past and their work. Names like Rembrandt, Monet, Degas, Matisse, Cassatt, Van Gogh, Picasso, Michelangelo, da Vinci, Cézanne, Renoir, Munch, Vermeer, Dali, and Rubens.
So it was most fascinating for me to view a few of those famous artists’ works gracing the exhibit walls at the Carnegie. From Mary Cassatt sketches and Henri Matisse drawings to paintings by Edgar Degas, Edvard Munch, and Paul Cézanne, every display was attention-grabbing.
Those I particularly enjoyed were The Garden in the Rue Cortot by Montmartre Pierre-Auguste Renoir in 1876 (top left in photo below); Cliffs near Dieppe by Claude Monet in 1882 (bottom left); and Le Moulin de la Galette by Vincent Van Gogh in 1886-87 (right).
I find that I’m drawn more to realistic and impressionistic styles of painting than abstract or cubism styles of art. Abstract art work leaves me baffled, pondering just what exactly the artist is trying to convey to me. And often I just don’t know. I’m too literal, I guess.
I have to wonder if those artists who express themselves in those styles understand their work either as I’m reminded of a quote I read once made by surrealist artist Salvador Dali, “If you understand a painting beforehand, you might as well not paint it.”
Some of the artwork exhibits that we saw caused us to be perplexed, scratching our heads in puzzlement. But I did find some of the modern art displayed to be thought provoking.
I admire those artists’ creativity and imagination. I appreciate their free-thinking kind of minds and I support the freedom they have in which to present their art.
I just don’t think I’d ever desire having it displayed in my living room.
“Paintings must be looked at and looked at and looked at… No writing, no talking, no singing, no dancing will explain them.” ~ Charles Demuth, American watercolor artist