When my kids were growing up, I tried really hard to expose them to a wide variety of cultural venues. Their dad covered the bases (pun intended) on sports; it was up to me to cover the arts, literature and music.
The first time I took them to The Butler Museum of American Art proved interesting. As we walked through the many galleries, we'd comment about various pieces, talking about what we liked or didn't like.
Our first foray into a hall containing modern art was most telling. My son took one look at a painting that was nothing more than a big red circle painted on a white background. Immediately he asked, "Mom, who decided this is art? It's definitely something I could have done." He was about 10 years old at the time and I think he was seeing dollar signs.
It was a good question and one I'd wondered about over the years. Who does decide what really good art is and by what virtue do 'they' get to decide?
For my money, really good art is something flawless that actually resembles or reminds us of some thing or someone real. To me it's a painting that captures the vivid colors of a sunset or makes ocean waves look real. I'm dumbstruck when I can see through the glass vase on the canvass or when the person looks as though they might reach out of the canvas at any moment and touch me as I pass by. But a red circle on a white background? Not so much.
Being a fair minded person, I do not limit my opinion about creativity to just the art world. Oh, no!
I picked up a recent copy of "House Beautiful" from a pile of discarded magazines I found at work. I've been looking for ideas that might inspire me toward doing some much needed home restyling. I thought surely there would be some good ideas hiding in the pages of this famed magazine.
I should have known better just by looking at the front cover: to me, it was ugly. I thought maybe this was the "before" picture of some lovely makeover. I was wrong.
When I opened the pages to the cover story, here's what I read: "This room is great because it's by Bunny Williams" with this subtitle: "American decorating at its best, by a master. It's a room we didn't want you to miss."
Once again I was faced with the question: Who decided that this person is a 'master'? Other than the paint color, the room was just about as ugly as any room I've ever seen. In fact, if Roger and Tanya from 'Designed to Sell' walked into the room, I'm convinced they'd start yanking things out and rearranging it immediately! Yet, I'm sure there are people all over the country who picked up that magazine and immediately called their decorators asking to have a copy installed in their homes, another nod to the gullibility of society.
Remember "The Emperor's New Clothes?" The one where the emperor walked in the parade naked while everyone told him what beautiful garb he was wearing? I think that's what we have, not only in the art world, but in many areas where creativity is subjective. It seems to me that frequently, those who have no talent set themselves up to critique those who do. It's a bizarre little twist, don't you think? Of course what is the old saying? Those who can, do; those who can't, criticize.
Of course, wanting to be fair, I'll doff my hat to this possibility: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. With that in mind, I think there are some people who would fare better if they wore permanent blindfolds.
Jagunic is a Cortland resident. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.