I was at the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Arts recently when I came across an exhibit of Theaster Gates, a Chicago-based artist. To over simplify it, here was another artist working with found objects in very much the same palette that I use: old wood, rusted metal, and mechanical parts. He too was looking to give new life to discarded material, to “rejuvenate both the architecture and social structure of South Chicago”.

The difference, to my eye, is that I am concerned with form, balance and composition. Always wanting to not stray too far from what I would call “classical beauty”. That is not to say that Mr. Gates isn’t concerned with beauty, just not what is typically called beauty. True, there are many different types of beauty and there is a real insight in seeing the beauty in everyday things. Could it be that the effort to “make things beautiful”, in a classical tradition, is as much of a distraction to making certain types of art as the abstract artists thought realism was? In a way, realism is not real but an illusion. It is the art of making something that is flat and tricking the eye into thinking that it is somehow a window into a space that is three dimensional. There is an incredible amount of skill to do this but if that is the goal of art then the best artists are the best technicians.

Is it possible that my struggle with making things beautiful, turns my work into decoration? Could it be that making things “pretty” just for the sake of making something pretty undermines what I am trying to do? I don’t think I can give up on my understanding of what art means to me. That is, after all, what my vision is but it does make me wish that I could have a long conversation with Mr. Gates.

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