Beauty in the Mundane

I am cer­tain of noth­ing but of the holi­ness of the Heart’s affec­tions and the truth of Imag­i­na­tion. What­ev­er the Imag­i­na­tion seizes as Beau­ty must be truth, whether it exist­ed before or not.”  –John Keats

"Rhapsody in Blues," original oil painting by Dawn Boyer. All Rights Reserved.

Rhap­sody in Blues, oil paint­ing start­ed in a work­shop with Christo­pher Volpe and fin­ished in the stu­dio.

Inspired by a post from Christo­pher Volpe

A lit­tle while back (in mid-March, when I’d had enough of the late New Eng­land win­ter uglies), I came upon a blog post by my artist friend Christo­pher Volpe, whose work I admire deeply, and whose tute­lage has brought me to won­der­ful new places in this some­times har­row­ing, some­times lone­ly and per­plex­ing, but always enrich­ing and ful­fill­ing art expe­di­tion of mine.

His words were salve to my win­ter-worn soul. (I need to go to a warm place in the win­ter, I think. Cold, damp, and gray are anethe­ma to every shred of my spir­it.)

He talked of find­ing the beau­ty in the mun­dane. “Ah!” thought I. “Yes!” A thrill of recognition–the kind you get when you think no one else under­stands and you at long last find the one oth­er who does–leapt up. He post­ed pho­tos by Kanevsky, Bon­vin, Dur­er, Bunker, Baart, Shishkin.

All were of hum­ble things like … tufts of grass. Some in brack­en, no less.

Wait. Tufts of grass? In brack­en?

How is that art?

Ah, grasshop­per. It is not the tuft of grass itself but what the artist makes of it.

In the art world, there seem to be two camps: one of which I am firm­ly a part, and anoth­er I want noth­ing to do with. Each of these camps would make some­thing com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent of those mun­dane tufts.

One camp would scoff at the tuft. Make it even ugli­er. Mutate it for shock val­ue. Get a rise out of col­lec­tors, who might pay mil­lions for it because they don’t under­stand the shock but sure know it gets every­one talk­ing, and there­fore, might have a real­ly high “cool fac­tor” going for it. This is the camp I will nev­er fit into. Nor do I ever want to. The way I look at it is this: there’s enough ugli­ness in the world, and we’ve cer­tain­ly been indoc­tri­nat­ed with enough hate and fear to last a few life­times over. Nope. Not for me. Not when there is so, so much beau­ty out there to be dis­cov­ered. You see, I have this lim­it­ed life to live, the way we all do, and I want to make the most of every minute of my time here. One of the things I love best about art is how it forces me to wake up and take notice. It has such a pro­found impact on me that I incor­po­rat­ed that state of “wak­ing up” into my artist state­ment. Yes, it’s that impor­tant.

So, the oth­er camp? That’s the one I belong to, and I am proud to state it. It is the camp that would glo­ri­fy the tufts, show the beau­ty in them, not in a nos­tal­gic, sen­ti­men­tal, “easy” way, but in a way that says some­thing new and makes oth­ers pay a dif­fer­ent kind of atten­tion. It would be a cel­e­bra­tion, per­haps qui­et, or per­haps with trum­pets blar­ing, but what would be com­mon would be an ener­gy, a gestalt, a … some­thing … that would cause the view­er to turn and say, “I nev­er thought of it that way before. I nev­er felt that way about it, either. What’s going on here? Wait. I must have those tufts!” Those tufts, as sim­ple and as unas­sum­ing as they may be in the nat­ur­al world, would have risen to a new lev­el and out­right trans­formed both the artist and the view­er through the artist’s search­ing for under­ly­ing mean­ing.

Here’s what I said to Chris: “I like and appre­ci­ate that you’re not afraid to dis­cuss the impor­tance of beau­ty in art. There’s a high-falutin’ school of thought that says, ‘Pshaw. Beau­ty is for the pro­le­tari­at. We here in the upper esch­e­lons know that tru­ly great art is meant to shock us and shake us up. Leave the beau­ty to the naive dream­ers.’ For me, it is the oppo­site. In this too-fast-paced world where tech­nol­o­gy is Mas­ter, we are los­ing our sight of and sense of con­nec­tion to the world around us. Artists have an essen­tial pur­pose in soci­ety now more than ever, I think, for they’re the ones who can stop us in our tracks, make us slow down and see the beau­ty, even in (or, per­haps, espe­cial­ly in) the seem­ing­ly mun­dane.…”

This is a sub­ject I’ll be revis­it­ing over and over again, I think.

We are real­ly good at cre­at­ing mean­ing. We can’t help it. It’s hard-wired in our DNA. It might come after we cre­ate the work–at least, that’s how it is for me–but we know there’s some­thing that pulls us, some­thing we have to fol­low, and so we do, and the paint­ing emerges. It’s not about the sub­ject mat­ter. It’s about the see­ing. It’s about the emo­tion­al res­o­nance that occurs. If we’re lucky, we find a new way of look­ing at the tufts, and we’ll nev­er feel the same way about them again. No longer will mid-March mean noth­ing but gray and brown dwin­dling win­ter uglies for me. Now, I can search for … and find … the beau­ti­ful tufts. And the brack­en. (I love that word.)

Whether it’s the beau­ty in a tuft, or brack­en, or a hum­ble leaf, or a blos­som patch­worked in dif­fer­ent angles of light, I am with John Keats, who said, “I am cer­tain of noth­ing but of the holi­ness of the Heart’s affec­tions and the truth of Imag­i­na­tion. What­ev­er the Imag­i­na­tion seizes as Beau­ty must be truth, whether it exist­ed before or not.” When it comes to what it means to be an artist, I think he nailed it. He would have prob­a­bly loved the word tuft, too. And def­i­nite­ly brack­en.


By |2017-03-02T20:20:59+00:00June 4th, 2014|Musings on Painting|1 Comment

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One Comment

  1. Christopher T Volpe June 5, 2014 at 12:46 pm - Reply

    Won­der­ful post, Dawn! You are a true cham­pi­on of the Beau­ti­ful — a sacred war­rior for the “holi­ness of the Heart’s Affec­tions” — we need more like you! Thanks for your uplift­ing words.

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