Modern Art: Beauty in the Eye of the Artist?

by Trish Overby

The Turner Prize (exhibitions at Tate Britain in London) for ‘new’ art is a widely recognised award for Europe’s art world. The winner for 2001, Martin Creed, exhibited an empty room where the lights go off and on every five seconds. It is entitled, “Lights Going On and Off”. One visitor to the gallery expressed himself by saying, “So this is art, is it?” I am sure we all might agree with this comment about modern art. Whenever I visit a gallery or exhibition, I always ask myself two questions: “Is it beautiful?” Of course, one person’s perception of beauty is different from another person’s. We can all think of words to describe beauty, such as symmetry, elegance or loveliness. Beauty is a very subjective topic for each one of us.

Damien Hirst -- Mother and Child Divided

What Is The Meaning Behind The Beauty?

The second question that I ask myself is “What is the meaning behind the beauty?”Modern Art: Beauty in the eye of the Artist? I have always had the thought that art should have meaning. It may not look beautiful but it should express some feeling or thought which the artist is trying to express to us through his or her art. The artist above follows a long line of other Turner prize entrants, such as Damien Hirst (Mother and Child Divided-1995 Winner) and Tracey Emin (My Bed-1999 shortlisted-actual bed with dirty linen, underwear and food wrappers). Each exhibit is as controversial as the other. But let’s ask ourselves -- what are they trying to express to us? What meaning are they expressing in these exhibits? Is this any different from Titian, Rembrandt or Michaelangelo?

According to today’s art world, the answer is no, they are still expressing themselves as freely as the artists of the past. The techniques and materials are different but the expression of life and reality is still evident (just by looking at them or reading an explanation from a placard located near the work of art). Perhaps the purpose for a lamb encased in a glass tank by Damien Hirst is to express a sense of meaninglessness in life. The animal is removed from its pastoral environment and put into an artificial environment of formaldehyde. One could say it is put into a cold, foreign environment to express the artist's view of our existence. He might think of our existence in this world as cold and foreign. What I think is expressed in most Modern Art is the emptiness and futility of life. There is no purpose to life because there is no reason for living.

A Beauty Within From Outside Ourselves

On the other hand, Michaelangelo is considered a genius when we see his intricate drawings and magnificent sculptures of the human form. His paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine chapel express so much life and purpose. The central picture of God reaching out to man (who is reaching back to God) signifies Michaelangelo’s view of life -- a view which has God as the centre of the world and man beneath Him (and yet next to Him). To Michaelangelo, man is not the centre of his world, but God, the Creator, is. This, in itself, expresses to us a purpose in life. The reason we are alive is because of a loving Creator and the purpose of our lives is to have a relationship with Him.

Michaelangelo -- The Sistine Chapel


Also, when one looks at the self portrait (old man) of Rembrandt and sees the light shining (glowing) out of his face, one is struck by an inner life. One doesn’t see a pretty (beautiful) face. Instead one sees a man who has experienced life with all its bumps and bruises but yet the ‘purpose’ of life is still there. The inner life glows out of the face expressing a life from within.

Here again, what is indicated is a God centred life within a person. This is what gives purpose to any artist to express a meaning or world view in their art. This ‘centredness’ also can give us a sense of fulfilment and a reason to live. After all, it is what we were created for—”Be fruitful and multiply……” Genesis 1:28

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