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Bill Brown

A complicated man.

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If you are not an art lover, you’re really missing out because art serves a very important function in man’s life. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by art because much of it is incomprehensible and the stuff that one is supposed to like as an intelligent and cultured individual isn’t particularly appealing. At its best, art is rejuvenatory, joy-inducing, and value-refreshing. Unfortunately, I’ve met many people who regard art as boring and uninteresting—even though they might otherwise have an eye and appreciation for good design and beauty.

I think it’s because they’ve conceded art to the experts. They equate art with the fervid splashes of Jackson Pollock, the bizarre cubism of Picasso, or practically any modern piece of sculpture. Any of these works mean absolutely nothing to them—or do if they admit to themselves their true feelings rather than parroting what’s expected.

The situation is self-reinforcing because every individual thinks that he or she is the only one who’s not getting it and doesn’t want to appear crass and uncultured. It’s just like the timeless parable about the emperor’s clothes. It only takes one person in a group admitting that this “art” is nothing more than pretentious, phony crap for everyone to be able to open up and confess that they thought it was only them. I like the article cited above for this very reason because it is a frank admission of utter indifference towards something heralded by experts.

Isn’t this just a matter of taste? Isn’t art in the eye of the beholder? No. Such views subvert the very serious value of art. Conceding the definition of art to such a relativistic notion is giving up on a vital part of life. Not only is art value-affirming and emotionally-rejuvenating, it also serves a cognitive purpose. Ayn Rand, who developed an impressive and consistent theory of aesthetics, argued that art is a concretization of the artist’s view of life, the universe, and everything—to borrow Douglas Adams’ famous formulation. It is complex philosophy expressed in paint, in verse, in bronze, or in stone. If that concretized philosophy agrees with the viewers, then art can serve a pedagogical purpose—though such a purpose is never the primary one—and an easy reference point to consult for guidance.

What can one do then since there’s thousands of people calling themselves artists and there’s thousands more in art history? How can one find the good art, those pieces that are life-affirming and joy-inducing? First, cast your net widely. You never know when you’ll find something unless you don’t look. Second, if you find an artist that you like, search around to find artists that he or she is often presented alongside. Or contact the artist to see what other artists he or she might recommend. Finally, you can check out two great sites for such art: the Art Renewal Center and the Quent Cordair Gallery. The latter offers links to a lot of similar sites as well as a comprehensive gallery of romantic and realist artists, including contemporaries. The former focuses on current, living artists oriented towards the movement Ayn Rand called “romantic realism.” And don’t just limit yourself to paintings because there’s a lot of spiritual value to be obtained from good architecture, music, literature, and sculpture.

[UPDATE (9/19/02): Art in the Home Depot: “The bricks are forever changed because they were a piece of fine art.” Uh huh. Fine art. I’m sure that the employees cleaning up her mess will be awestruck and the home owners who purchase the supplies will instead display them proudly. Give me a break!]