“Beauty is unbearable, drives us to despair, offering us for a minute the glimpse of an eternity we should like to stretch out over the whole of time.” – Albert Camus (from Notebooks, 1935-1951)
…The postmodern skeptic, faced with an unflinchingly pragmatic and scientific worldview, has no hope of an eternal future. Humanity, crawling out of the primordial soup, living briefly, and returning to the mud, wrestles with a cosmic insignificance that is reflected in the art of our time. Beautiful figure paintings look hopelessly naive and outmoded in many art circles precisely because they no longer represent the predominating beliefs of the artistic and intellectual elite – the end of man is not glory but dust. Thus the art of the modern epoch has been largely nonrepresentational, characterized by a marred, earthbound, fragmented view of the human being. Beauty, eternity, and truth seem to have faded into a bygone era.
While people share much with other living creatures, the desire for beauty, the capacity for self-reflection, and the longing for eternity are distinctively human qualities. On some subconscious level we need beauty, despite its perceived lack of function. If we were to give a horse a diamond ring, it would assess it only on the basis of its utility, essentially asking the question, “Can I eat it?” In contrast, the human being has the elevated option to ask not only “Is it useful?” but “Is it beautiful?” The enormity of human suffering in the world does not render this question, or the desire to ask it, trivial. Rather, it affirms an appreciation of aesthetics as fundamental to our nature
Artists help us see the surprising beauty that breaks into our daily lives by celebrating that which might otherwise pass by unnoticed. Artists are in a unique position to leave an intimate record of human life, as they give us the opportunity to see not only through their eyes but also through their thoughts and emotions. One could say that the greater the art, the more clearly we experience this communion of souls. Artists remind us that despite the pain and ugliness in the world, something deeper exists – a beauty that peeks through the drudgery of life, whispering that there is more just beneath the surface. We see a landscape filled with longing and loss or a figure filled with love and empathy. These images enable us to long and love with the creators.
Nature shows us one kind of beauty, such as the way the light falls through the tree canopy, speckling the forest floor where I now sit and write. Occasionally, an unusually insightful individual is able to capture this kind of beauty in art. This is why Mozart’s Requiem Mass still moves people to tears in packed orchestra halls or why people are willing to wait in line for hours to see an exhibition of works by Vermeer. Despite all appearances and talk to the contrary, we crave art that captures truth and remains powerfully and beautifully relevant long past the time of its creation. This sort of art is not just pretty or made up of the hollow aesthetic beauty that changes with the eye of the beholder. It is not sentimental, for sentiment is fleeting. The sort of art that lives eternally is that which captures astonishing, spine-chilling, breathtaking beauty that heightens our senses and floods us with transforming thought and emotion. In this work, we hear a whisper from another world saying, “It’s all real.” The ache to last means you were meant to last; the longing for beauty calls to you because beauty marks a reality that actually exists.
The contemporary artists in this book lived parallel to the rages of modern and postmodern art; they saw the same grimy buses pass by, the same soggy newspapers and cigarette butts in the gutter, the same horrors on the news, but they saw in these things an alternate reality of meaning – one that they communicate in their work. The topics they choose to express are not always comfortable to look at, but, through the artist’s vision, they are infused with pity, compassion, and insight that express a kind of beauty that transcends even the thorniest subject matter. The art portrayed in this book shows the courageous path followed by visionaries who are strangers in their own times, looking ahead to a land not yet found to capture a hope that, through beauty, can fight its way back into our world.
From Classical Painting Atelier: a contemporary guide to traditional studio practice, by Juliette Aristides. published by Watson-Guptill, New York, 2008