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Art’s in eyes of beholder

Art’s in eyes of beholder
Art’s in eyes of beholder
The two girls dressed in white in this antique-store find have sparked stimulating conversations about the message behind this painting.
Judy O'Bannon
Judy O’Bannon

On our recent drive to Corydon from Indianapolis, we stopped at the antique mall in Edinburg to stretch our legs and look around a bit. Having nothing in particular in mind, our cart remained empty until I spotted a large painting hanging high in a booth.
My first response was to laugh out loud at the two human figures represented. They appeared to be children in white dresses, squinting as they stood in the bright sunlight. I was sure this painting would make my own days brighter if it hung in my home. The price was within my range, and I hustled to get my husband, Don, to see the prize I had found. He took one look and said he didn’t think much of it and that it was overpriced.
Regardless, I called a clerk; she took it down and straight to the sales desk.
When we were ready to check out with our purchases, Don said with a laugh that he would pay for everything but only $25 on the painting because that was all it was worth. That didn’t stop me as I pulled out my credit card. I loved the painting.
We arrived at our farm after dark, but I took that painting out of the car and raced to the living room to hang it on a prominent nail. The next day, as I sat gazing at my new piece of art work, Don sat down with the same unimpressed attitude he had possessed the day before. And thus started a long and stimulating discussion as to what we saw in this painting of two girls dressed in white.
When we stopped talking, we not only still disagreed about the message of the painting, but we each had several possibilities as to its subject matter and interpretation.
When our two young granddaughters came to visit, they were asked what they saw in the painting. It is interesting that we all sensed the same general mood in the painting as well as some universal themes. But their interpretations reflected their own life experiences. As we peeled back the layers of meaning and our understanding developed, I no longer saw humor in the painted images. We saw wistfulness and acceptance of life’s journey.
I have often pondered the lethal poison left behind in the ex-Soviet countries: the victim mentality and the lack of hope. The best description of the condition that still exists there was found in the Erarta Museum of Contemporary Art in St. Petersburg, Russia. It is not full of pretty pictures, but of visual storytelling and messages of oppression and dreams of freedom. A placard at the entrance to the galleries reads: ‘We know from the history of art of the Soviet Union that Lenin’s slogan ‘art belongs to the people’ was in reality directly opposed by the carefully constructed system of education and selection of artists, who received the right to create. The idea that every man is an artist on the one hand reminds us of our freedom as intelligent and creative beings and, on the other hand, teaches us to treat the creativity of others with understanding and a sense of belonging.’ The artist is free to express his views on anything and in any manner that speaks for him. The viewer is also part of the creative process when he interprets the art from his own life experiences. ‘As you walk our floors, you’ll see works of eternal philosophic themes: who we are and why we exist, where do happiness and suffering come from and what do they bring to our lives, what kind of a world surrounds us: hostile, friendly or indifferent. Experiencing art is deeply personal and highly individual.’
As my family, with humor and openness, discussed the new painting in our house, we found we had to dismiss the false notion that there is an absolute standard of what is ‘good’ art. We realized that we didn’t have all the answers at first glance and even more questions after much speculation.
I first saw my painting as what appeared to be two silly young girls on a bright, sunny day. After listening and looking with others, I saw the human figures as representing a mysterious journey of life that all of us must travel. It started us thinking about ideas and situations that hadn’t entered our minds as we went about our average workday. We woke up to the hidden talents and dreams in each of us.
Why don’t you try this game with friends? Take a new look at a piece of art. Don’t approach a painting already hanging in someone’s home. They have a bit of favoritism and ego attached to that piece. Find a new and neutral work in a magazine, museum or store window and go at it. Discuss, throw out ideas, feel free to disagree and have a great time.
As they say at the Erarta, ‘We hope that for all of you, art will fuel your own inner potential, where the courage of artists in the open expression of their vision of the world will help you to not be afraid of being yourself.’