Mary Aslin, "Double Delight", Pastel
Mary Aslin, "Double Delight", Pastel

An artist friend of mine, Janine Salzman, recently sent me a link to a YouTube video by the artist Scott Burdick. Scott and his artist wife, Susan Lyon, are traditional representational painters who received their training in Chicago and were presenters at the American Artist Weekend with the Masters held in Dana Point, California in September.  Scott's presentation was based on his video entitled, "The Banishment of Beauty" (I urge you to watch it) and the thesis of the presentation is that the modern art movement--art museums and rarefied art academics and critics--have essentially obfuscated the sensibilities of the public by promulgating "art" that is in some cases ridiculous, ugly, or nonsensical.  This "art" has commanded high prices and in the meantime, modern traditional art like that of Richard Schmid's or Scott Burdick's has been ignored by the museums in the interest of promoting, in the words of the museum curators "truly sophisticated art".

Richard Schmid, Landscape painting

Scott Burdick, "Holy Man", Oil

You have seen or heard of this type of "highly sophisticated and important art":

Franz Kline, "Probst", Oil on Canvas

Robert Motherwell, "Je T'aime No. VIII (Mallarme's Swan: Homage)" Oil on Linen

In the meantime, Scott says that the word "beauty" in the modern, rarefied world of art academics has become a dirty word, even though it is often what the general public loves best.  Many people have told me that they enjoy traditional art that has beauty and recognizable scenes and symbols, but they also almost apologize for their "uneducated" perspective. Sad, isn't it? His final emphasis is that the public has been duped in the same way that high financiers duped their investors and that "it will all come tumbling down" in the same way Bernie Madoff's ponzi scheme came tumbling down. In the end, Scott proposes, Beautiful Art, which requires no detailed explanations to understand (and will reduce the need for art academics for such explanations) will prevail, the same way a beautiful piece of music does not require explanation but is instead felt with the heart.

I think modern art can have beauty. I can enjoy the movement and visual stimulation and interest of a well-designed abstract piece (good design being the key and I think the above pieces by Kline and Motherwell qualify).  Once, while viewing an installation of bizarre sculpture, I finally realized what I believe some modern art is trying to achieve:  it is a visual mechanism for exploring ideas and emotions and allowing the mind to see things in a new way.  Does it take as much raw skill as traditional fine art, which is based on fundamental drawing skills, and an understanding of form and color?  It does not. 

I happened upon a class recently that offered the opportunity to use different drawing and painting media. The teacher happened to have a modern art bent and he led us through an exercise of making a sound composition using these tools.  Here is what I came up with:

Mary Aslin, Fun 10-minute abstract

It took 10 minutes and was fun to do.  Is it a "good" composition with some sense of movement?  Yes, I think so.  Does it take as much skill as painting a still life?  Absolutely not.  (One of the students in the class asked what was to stop her from putting a price of $100,0000 on her "painting" and ask a museum to show it?  In other words, what separates her work from Mark Rothko's painting of a giant yellow rectangle?  There was silence in the room....and the teacher finally said, "Well, Rothko has so much of himself in his work....")

Masters of representational art, who have painstakingly, over decades of hard work, honed their skills to produce epic beautiful paintings and sculptures and who are doggedly trying to make a living with their art find it painful, emotionally and financially, that their own work is often ignored by the modern art movement.  See the work of Ned Mueller for example:

Ned Mueller, "Mountain Lake", Oil on Linen

And then note that Damien Hirst's shark in a plexiglass tank sold for $8 million dollars. 

Damien Hirst, "The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living", Tiger shark, glass, steel, formaldehyde

What takes more vision and raw skill in the end?  Quang Ho, one of the other presenters at the AA Masters Weekend and who embraces the full spectrum of visual expression as art, had a simple summary for art that perhaps can be used as perspective for understanding art and fine art or great art:  "Great art is not easily imitated.  Rothko is about choosing colors in an interesting and beautiful way, no doubt, but can easily be imitated."

Do you agree?  Can this painting by Rothko be imitated?

Mark Rothko "Yellow and Orange", Oil

Is it easy to imitate this painting by Quang Ho (note the beautiful marriage of representation and abstraction)?:

Quang Ho, "Harmony of Lemons", Oil

Or this one by Joachin Sorolla?

Joachin Sorolla, "Sewing the Sail", Oil

I would love to have all three paintings hanging in my house, including the Rothko. (It would be very hard to be blue with all that orange). 

But now I ask the very riskiest of questions: which is more beautiful?  Perhaps beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I believe that, whether manifest in modern art or traditional art, Beauty points to Truth and is Absolute and that it must be felt with the heart. It does not requires lengthy academic explanations, and is instinctually understood.  The vocation of fine artists is to point to a Beauty and Truth beyond themselves and that Beauty for Beauty's sake is enough. No other message is necessary.  Members of the general public or non-artists who enjoy traditional art don't have to apologize or hide. 

And so maybe, at the the end of the day, traditionalists simply want equal due, with their work as highly valued--financially and with allocated museum wall space--as modern work.   Luckily, art collectors recognize quality and beauty and truth when they see it and do a great service supporting those great artists who pursue excellence at the highest level.