Eye of the Beholder

burning tree    I like pretty art. Call me simplistic, and some may, but I have trouble understanding modern art and not just because it’s often not pretty.  The art, such as the piece above, challenges me and makes me think. That’s not such a bad thing. But there are often times I flat out do not get what I’m seeing. Last Sunday at the Phoenix  Art Museum, which has arctic-like air conditioning and thus a great place to be on a hot summer day in the desert, I wandered into the modern art area. The photo of tree, whole and then reduced to ashes, might represent humans who, like the once mighty tree, will one day turn to dust. I often wish I had the artist beside me to explain. 

dead people

      Did this artist get inspired by yoga? Or is it that pesky concept of death again? I’m not even going to try to guess with this one. In the photo, the woman gazing down at the prone body with her arms crossed is wondering the same thing herself…or maybe she “gets it.” I don’t. Near each piece of art work is the name of the artist and some explanation of the artist’s vision but, again, I often leave scratching  my head trying to understand.  Art like this doesn’t leave me in awe, but it does make me ponder metaphorical meanings.  

    In her book, The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron encourages writers to take themselves on artist dates to spur creativity.  Attend the opera, a quilting exhibition, or visit a historic home to find inspiration from another’s artistic work. It doesn’t mean we will like everything we see. There are some books people have encouraged me to read that stunk. I read one or two chapters and can not make myself read any further. Modern art is sorta like that for me, too. 


After the modern art, I found myself in the portrait exhibit area. Now this painting inspired me because it is of a woman who was the mistress of King Charles. Not sure what century.  A long time ago as is obvious by her shimmering gown. She had five children with the king, and also several other lovers. She  died in her forty’s,  so she was one busy gal. Her dark eyes, creamy skin, wistful expression (another lover perhaps?) made me want to write a story about her. I wanted to make her come alive on the page and answer the questions about her life such as how did the king’s wife never learn about the five children her husband spawned with this beautiful dark-haired woman? Scandal is not reserved for 2017.

Scottsdale The title of this oil painting was Scottsdale, Arizona 1935. Really? Today Scottsdale has more plastic surgery offices than any other city in America. The days of horses, and Native American women in traditional garb, and dogs lounging in the street have been replaced with trendy restaurants, expensive malls, lavish resorts and a lot of Botox. Art is like a visual history book. I wish Scottsdale still looked like this, at least in a few places. The city could stand to lose a spa or nightclub and add a few horses.

    And then, just when I had written off modern art, I saw this on my way out. 

velvet tree

 The tree’s trunk is covered in velvet and that is rock salt as the base. The birds on the tree are clear containers filled with Windex. That’s pretty cool. Saying cool is not the most sophisticated way to explain art, but I looked at this tree for a long time. I have absolutely no idea what the artist was saying, but it didn’t matter, because it was fun to view. 

The lesson from all of this is that the artist writes or dances or makes modern art to please his or her own self first. If other people come along for the ride, fine. That’s a good reminder for any creative pursuit, or life in general. Some people will like it, some won’t. Bottom line is to be true to you.