Art Is in the Eye of the Beholder
By Jeffery Cohen
They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I’m beginning to believe that that very same thing applies to art.
My brother and I are both artists. We grew up together. We went to the same schools, had the same teachers and visited the same museums. We even wound up going to the same college and in the end, we both graduated as art majors. We were influenced pretty much by the same things. After all that, you would expect that we would have the same taste in art.
Last summer my brother was visiting, and we decided to do a little gallery hopping. We began by browsing in a shop that displayed some wonderfully realistic seascapes. They had such a lifelike quality that I could smell the sea air and hear the crashing of the waves. The detail was incredible. The colors were absolutely vibrant. From a distance, the paintings appeared to be gigantic photographs. I was impressed with the fine draftsmanship, so I called my brother over.
“Isn’t this amazing? Look at how fine the work is here. I can’t even see the brush strokes from close up. Unbelievable, isn’t it?”
My brother stood there staring for the longest time.
“You like that?” he asked.
“Like it? I’m overwhelmed by it! And you?”
He shrugged his shoulders and rolled his eyes.
“I guess it’s okay…if you like that sort of thing.”
That sort of thing? Was he kidding?
“I guess you think the Mona Lisa is okay too…if you like that sort of thing – portraits of smirking Italian women.”
“What are you getting so excited about?” he smiled. “We just have different tastes in art.”
Different tastes? That was a possibility I hadn’t even considered. As we strolled out of one gallery and into another next door, I said, “Well, just what do you like?”
Before I could finish asking the question, my brother rushed over to an old wooden door that had been ripped off of its hinges and mounted on the wall. It was completely covered in gobs of black paint. A splash of red enamel was smeared across it, a handful of gold glitter was glued to its center and a bunch of chicken feathers were attached here and there. My brother’s eyes grew wide. With a pleased grin, he proudly announced, “Now this excites me!”
“A door excites you?” I asked. “A door with a bad paint job excites you? Come over to my house. I have masterpieces like that all over the place. My wife keeps pestering me to give them a paint job.”
“I’m serious,” he whispered without taking his eyes off of the door. “Don’t you feel the energy? Don’t you feel the movement?”
To be honest, all that I felt was the breeze on the back of my neck from a fan that the gallery had set up to circulate the air. So I turned around and pointed a finger at it.
“Hey, look at this. I’ll bet you thought this was a fan. It’s actually a piece of kinetic art. It’s a mechanical piece of sculpture. Don’t you feel the energy? Don’t you feel the movement?” I was tempted to take it one more absurd step, but I was laughing so hard, I couldn’t breathe. That’s when the gallery owner strolled over in our direction.
“I see you’ve taken an interest in our latest acquisition. We call it…Fan. Only two thousand dollars,” he smiled.
“No thanks,” I said. “I’ve already got one at home in my private collection. It’s right next to a group of other pieces I own…the broom, the vacuum cleaner, the plunger.”
“Yes, how interesting,” he smiled as he bowed politely, then he drifted away.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I do like art of all kinds. I’m mesmerized by Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings. Rauschenberg’s found object sculptures are ingenious. Louise Nevelson’s constructions are rhythmic and complex. Calder’s mobiles are a delightful combination of balance and whimsy. Even Picasso’s bicycle seat bull head is intriguing. But a fan that looks like a fan, sounds like a fan and blows air like a fan is…just a fan!
My brother didn’t think I was being open-minded enough. He felt that I was acting old-fashioned. He didn’t think I was being hip, modern, with it.
Well, my brother will be pleased to know that I’ve changed my mind about art. I am now as hip as I can be. I’ve actually collected hundreds of new pieces that I’m willing to part with for a very reasonable price. Next month, I’ll be opening a gallery of my own. I’m calling it…“My Garage.”
About this writer
- Jeffery Cohen, freelance writer, painter, and sculptor, wrote a weekly newspaper humor column for six years. He was a finalist in the Winter Women-On-Writing Flash Fiction Contest and won second place in Vocabula’s Well Written Writing Contest in 2011.