Art Is about Beauty
My Artistic Philosophy
This lens begins with an essay I published in 2007 about the philosophy behind my art:
When I first started using the internet in 1998, I immediately joined a discussion group that was made up primarily of Australian photographers, mostly folks who were affiliated with some university or the other. Periodically we would get into an argument about the nature of art. This might be prompted because someone posted an admiring comment about someone like Mapplethorpe or Ofeli. While Mapplethorpe has done some work that I would regard as artistic, and I do appreciate, he has also done some work which I personally think was calculated to offend. Ofeli is an African artist (said advisedly) who did a famous portrait of the Madonna that has elephant dung on it. Sometimes we got into these arguments when someone commented positively about a particular art work in which a crucifix was set into a jar of urine. Now I have never been a Catholic, and never intend to be, but I think it is wrong to use nastiness and filth to disparage someone else's religion, no matter what that religion is. If you want to offer a rational argument against that religion, fine, be my guest. Observe common civility. So it would be the academic Australian artists, versus me all by myself. Some people probably sat and watched from the sidelines, amused. So I find the portrait of the Madonna by Ofili offensive. Is it art? Not in my opinion. This is a very strongly held opinion. And I would assert this, and people would actually mock me for my opinion. To my way of thinking, since I did not mock them, but tried to talk to them rationally, I had established higher ground, and there was no excuse for this behavior. After years of this, I finally got tired of it and left the group. It is unlikely I influenced anyone's opinion, though I can always hope.
I will say categorically that art must be beautiful, or it must be intended to motivate a person to a humanitarian act. If it does neither, it's not art. If it is based on a philosophy of nihilism, it's not art. We have had some very destructive influences in the world, especially in recent years, which have seriously harmed civilization. They say that in the United States, we live in a post-Christian era. This is reflected in what is considered art. Francis Schaeffer wrote a book entitled How Should We Then Live? It is a magnum opus, which discusses many different forms of art, and traces their history. Eventually, a series of films was also made based on this book. In both book and films, examples of visual art were given and discussed. During the time of the Judeo-Christian consensus, people worked to make beautiful art, art that glorified God. A major change came about when philosophers started to write and establish the idea that God doesn't exist, there is ultimately no hope, and so forth. Schaeffer uses the term "nihilism" to label their writings. They sketch people as being just another common animal, with no ethical impulses, or if so, these impulses should be rejected; it's all a matter of opinion. One idea is as good as another. There is no attempt to judge ideas, or say that some are more worthy than others. But we not only have the right to judge ideas, we have the responsibility.
If we don't judge ideas, than mass slaughter of people is acceptable, and we have no right to object.
There are certain basic ethics in the universe. Causing someone else unnecessary pain is wrong. We have laws that define certain felonies. These acts are intrinsically wrong, and if any civilization wants to continue to exist, it must provide heavy punishments for people who commit these acts. After WWII, the world tried the Nazi leaders, and condemned many of them to death. But, they said, we didn't know it would come to this. One of the defendants actually said this, "I never knew it would come to this. You must believe me! You must believe me!" And the judge said, "It came to this the first time you condemned an innocent person to death."
I sometimes also get into discussions with atheists who maintain that you can live an ethical life, and have a firmly formed ethic, without having a religion. And I know atheists who live highly ethical lives. So where is the problem? Well, to begin with, I ask them, what makes an act unethical? The usual answer is, "if it hurts someone." And I then will say, you mean if it causes someone pain. And they will say, "yes." So we explore that avenue. And then I ask them, what makes pain evil? They can't tell me! Sometimes pain is necessary. It serves as a warning that you have been hurt. If you cannot perceive pain, you probably won't learn not to put your hand in a fire. And if something is hot, you will get burned if you touch it, and the first way you will find out is by smelling your burned skin. A few unfortunate people in the world cannot perceive pain. Sometimes surgeons have to cause pain in order to heal. But other than that, it can be said that causing someone pain is evil. But why is causing pain evil? They cannot answer this question. The result is that even though they have a finely tuned sense of ethics, they have no foundation for it at all. In talking to a number of atheists, I have learned that they have developed their personal ethic from what are basically Judeo-Christian roots. They don't usually acknowledge this. But it is there. Ultimately, ethics have a religious basis, and there is no getting around this.
Let me tell you a story by way of illustration, of why you have to have some kind of absolute ethic in a society, and why it had better be the right one. In the book Peace Child, by Don Richardson, a small group of people who live in the jungles of Indonesia is described. Missionaries went to them, and discovered that they had a rather unusual cultural trait. They believed that it was the subject of legends when someone betrayed a friend. The more elegantly the person betrayed his friend, the better everyone liked it. When they passed down their stories, their oral history, they told stories of the heroes who had betrayed their friends in the most elegant way possible. I don't imagine I have to say that this is a very dysfunctional cultural trait, to say the least. The result was that nobody trusted anybody else, and small families were isolated from all other small families, and the people suffered because they could not cooperate in any way to solve a community problem. The missionaries came Into this situation, and tried to figure out how to reach the people with their message of salvation. They began by learning the language, developing a writing system, and making a dictionary. They worked this way for quite awhile, and they invited the participation of the local people. But they couldn't figure out how to explain that Jesus came to save them from their sins. They might as well have been speaking Greek. This went on for months. Finally, one of the people working with them came and told them about another cultural trait. They had a legend of the Peace Child. The Peace Child was an infant taken from his parents and given to parents in another village, and those parents in turn gave their child to the original couple. As long as both children lived, there would be peace between the two villages, and nobody would betray anyone else. This man then explained to the people that Jesus is our Peace Child, sent to reconcile us with God. This the people understood, and it totally transformed their culture. Now they could lead prosperous and healthy lives.
Every culture in the world has a piece of the truth. For this group, that piece was the Peace Child.
This is how profound an ethical idea can be, how much it can influence a society.
We are at a crossroads. Will civilization be preserved, or will we descend into barbarity? Already, the civilized nations are being attacked by barbarians who believe death is preferable to life, and they will gain their reward if they kill themselves and as many other innocent people as they can. Slavery is still rampant in many parts of the world. Some nasty diseases are pandemic in some places, such as AIDS in Africa. Sexual promiscuity and deviant sex are celebrated. Women by the tens of millions get abortions. Politicians indulge in ethical violations, deceit and fraud, and other manner of nonfunctional behavior. In some circles, this is celebrated, and in others, it is dealt with, which means there is a double standard, and the way things often look, the scoundrels win. Taxes are astronomical in most of the world, there are billions of poor people, many of whom don't even have clean drinking water. Take your pick: high taxes, or living like animals. So what can we do about it? Each of us can make our little niche of the world a better place. Together, we can make a difference.
My career as an artist is based on making my little niche of the world a better place. I seek to delight people with beauty. I seek to make images that are uplifting and give people a sense of joy or peace. I go to remote places to take pictures of beautiful places to share with other people who cannot go where I went. And so, for me, art is about beauty.
(all images by Pat Goltz)
Soli Deo Gloria
(Latin - To God Alone be the Glory)
Your Worldview Affects Your Art
How Should We Then Live?
This book by Francis Schaeffer gives a philosophical basis for promoting art which is in keeping with the Judeo-Christian consensus, and shows why the departure from that consensus has hurt our civilization.
Francis and Edith Schaeffer are Presbyterians and founders of L'Abri retreat in Switzerland. He is what I would call a "soft apologist" because he presents logical defenses of the Christian faith, but they are more accessible and less rigorous. He still makes an excellent case, and has persuaded many people.
How Should We Then Live? (L'Abri 50th Anniversary Edition): The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture
by Francis A. Schaeffer
How Should We Then Live? (Simplified Chinese)
by Francis A.Schaeffer
HOW SHOULD WE THEN LIVE? The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture / Translated to Chinese language / Chinese Version / Christianity / History / China / Jesus
by Francis A.Schaeffer
Don Richardson wrote a book which heavily influenced my view of the Christian faith, as shown in my initial essay. The book, Eternity in Their Hearts, talks about how every culture remembers a part of the Gospel, or of the Christian faith. For example, some cultures teach about a lost book. Missionaries can tell the people the lost book is the Bible, and the people will receive it. Sometimes they practice baptism. Missionaries can explain how baptism relates to the Christian faith, and then say they are here to tell them the rest of the truth. If missionaries first study the culture, they will find these remaining memories from long ago.
Peace Child is an example of this principle at work, but in this case, the person who found the missing memory was a native of the culture.
Peace Child: An Unforgettable Story of Primitive Jungle Treachery in the 20th Century
by Don Richardson
IL FIGLIO DELLA PACE (Edizione italiana) (original title "Peace Child") (Text in Italian language)
Eternity in Their Hearts: Startling Evidence of Belief in the One True God in Hundreds of Cultures Throughout the World
by Don Richardson
All of these are available on Amazon.
"Art" That Is Not Beautiful
Going against the Establishment
Some people really have a very dark outlook on life. They do "art", but it reflects ugliness, gratuitous violence, eroticism or worse. They aren't making art to inspire people, or to promote more humanity. They are expressing the darkness of their soul. Some people say that because they are expressing the darkness of their soul, it is art. I don't THINK so. They can express themselves all they want, but quite frankly, people don't need to be dragged into dirt or worse. They need something that will nurture them. Ugliness and violence do not nurture.
I have frequently been put into a position where I have to distinguish between artistic nudity, eroticism, and porn. I have developed a fairly succinct definition that seems to work reasonably well. There is such a thing as an artistic nude. Such an image celebrates the beauty of God's design of the human body. Michaelangelo's statue, David, illustrates this kind of art. There isn't an art gallery in the world that wouldn't be proud to exhibit this work.
Some modern photographers often use artistic nudes in natural settings of scenic beauty. Most of the time, this works quite well. For example, one of my favorite works is of a nude woman resting on the trunk of a twisted tree, and her pose mirrors the lines in the tree. I have seen other art that show a woman's body as a landscape, or a woman lying on a hilly place, and such other places, and in each case, the effect is that of the artistic nude.
Erotic art is not really designed to celebrate the beauty of the human body. Its purpose is to arouse. Erotic poses, coquettish facial expressions, full frontal nudity with no pose except standing, concentration on erogenous zones, cutting off the woman's head and just showing the body, are often typical of this type of "art". Sometimes on the internet, someone will put up a web site that actually has good artistic nudes, with brazen links to erotic or porn sites. These I call "portal sites".
I think we all know pretty much what porn is. It is explicit depiction of sex acts, for example. Erotic art is usually of only one person, while porn often involves two, or it may concentrate on some particularly perverse pose or act.
People who start off with excellent artistic nudes always need to be on guard against slipping into eroticism or porn.
For the Christian, artistic nudes can be a valid form of expression, but erotic art and porn are not.
For the world, erotic art and porn serve only to degrade everyone involved. The primary victim is usually the woman, and women can be trapped in the porn industry in two ways. One is by becoming addicted to a drug, with her master providing it, and the other is blackmail, whereby the master threatens to publish compromising photos of her to the world if she leaves. People involved in the porn or prostitution industry are literally slaves.
Many people who don't have a problem with our over-sexualized society will see much more clearly when it comes to violent "art." I may get into that at a later date, but for now, I will leave you with the common understanding of what violence in "art" is, and how it should be avoided in every case unless the motivation for the image is to get people to do something to relieve other people's suffering.
These days, if it's dark, ugly, violent, unorganized, erotic, or something a monkey could paint, the artist will get the attention of the art galleries and the critics. People with lots of money will buy these works. Do they hang them on their wall? I'm not sure. I wouldn't. I wouldn't want to look at them all the time.
There are some genres of art that may seem unorganized at first glance. For example, a texture piece might be unorganized. I hope to get into more detail about this soon.
So what do you do if you don't believe in the ugly, violent, erotic, etc.? I choose to stay true to my vision, even if I don't sell much. Sooner or later, people will buy my art. I have done several Lenses on people whose art is beautiful, and sells. Some people prostitute themselves by making only what sells easily. To me, it's not worth the price.
This reminds me of a joke. A man asks a woman, "Would you sleep with me if I buy you dinner?" She says, "No. I am a woman of virtue." He then asks, "Would you sleep with me if I gave you a million dollars?" She says yes. He then asks, "Would you sleep with me if I gave you a thousand dollars?" She says, "Why do you ask? I already told you I am a woman of virtue." He says, "We have already determined you are NOT a woman of virtue. Now we are just trying to set the price".
See what I mean?
Liz goes to her first show at an art gallery and is looking at the paintings. One is a huge canvas that has black with yellow blobs of paint splattered all over it. The next painting is a murky gray color that has drips of purple paint streaked across it.
Liz walks over to the artist and says, "I don't understand your paintings."
"I paint what I feel inside me," explains the artist.
"Have you ever tried Alka-Seltzer?"
With thanks from Joke du Jour
My Artistic Expression - Photography
As I have said, I do photography so that I can share with others. I share the beauty they cannot go and see for themselves. Most of my photography is of natural beauty, but I have also done street photography and a few people.
The photo of Antelope Canyon below has a story behind it. I have actually made about five trips to Antelope Canyon. It is the most famous slot canyon, and is located very close to Page, Arizona, which is also known for the artificial lake nearby, Lake Powell. On this occasion, I timed my trip for a time of year I was likely to see sun's rays in the canyon, and a time of day when I was most likely to see them. I had actually been in the canyon for close to two hours when I concluded I wasn't going to get the picture I was after. But at the entrance, I saw a group of people, one of whom had a tripod set up, and I turned to see what he was looking at, and this is what I saw.
For this photo, I needed to travel about 100 miles from my home. I had to go during a year when we had abundant winter rains, and when I knew the wildflowers were in bloom. I took a hike that was a couple of miles long, which was a challenge for me at times, being the age I am. This photo was actually taken at the beginning of the hike. The tall cactus is a saguaro, Carnegiea gigantea. You can see them in the old TV series High Chaparral. This is the signature plant of the Sonoran Desert, which encompasses southern Arizona, parts of Sonora, Baja California, and California. The holes were made by woodpeckers, or in other ways. They are lined with a hard lining known as a cactus boot, and several species establish nests there. The yellow flowers are brittlebush, Encelia farinosa. It is called by this name because the stems are brittle and snap off cleanly. As you can see, in a good year, in some locations, it can carpet the hillside with yellow.
A tiny but dignified old lady was among a group looking at an art exhibition in a newly opened gallery. Suddenly one contemporary painting caught her eye.
"What on earth," she inquired of the artist standing nearby, "is that?"
He smiled condescendingly. "That, my dear lady, is supposed to be a mother and her child."
"Well, then," snapped the little old lady, "why isn't it?"— With thanks from Joke du Jour
Sunsets are a favorite subject for me. We have some pretty spectacular sunsets in Arizona, and we have many of them. On this occasion, I was out running errands, and all I had with me was a cheap point-and-shoot. The sunset on this day pretty much involved the whole canopy of the sky. This location is near a friend's house, about ten mile from my house. The full title is The Heavens Declare the Glory of God.
I am by nature a night person, so it is more rare for me to take pictures of the sunrise. However, I have a pretty good collection. This is my favorite. You won't really be able to see them in this small image, but there are three birds flying. This is not an easy kind of photo to get, because birds are usually either too close, in which case they are out of focus or blur past, or they are too far and therefore too small. This shot was taken from my yard.
This peak is on the road that leads to Monument Valley, a rather famous tribal park. I had to travel pretty much the height of the state to get here. It's enough of a drive that I spent some nights on the road.
Digital landscapes, abstracts, and fractal art
I do several kinds of digital art. These include fractal images, digital landscapes, abstracts, and occasionally photomanipulation.
Fractal art is derived from mathematical formulas, of which the most well known is the Mandelbrot Set. One characteristic of fractals is infinitely receding complexity. If you zoom into a portion of a fractal image, you see more of this complexity, with repeating, often slightly modified, image portions like what you see when you are zoomed out. The Julia Set is derived from the Mandelbrot Set, and there are other lesser known fractal formulas. Coloring algorithms, scripts, and other mathematical modifications are used with the original formulas to produce many different kinds of results. Each program has a graphical user interface that allows the artist to design the work by the way it looks. Although it helps if an artist knows some of the math involved, it is not necessary. The artist designs an image he finds pleasing, and then saves the mathematical formula behind it. This acts as a little program that tells the computer what color to make each pixel in the image.
There are many fractal art programs available, some free, some inexpensive.
Ultrafractal was my first fractal program. It is inexpensive. It has a huge library of coloring algorithms, and permits layering. It is a very complex program, and probably realistically takes a lifetime or more to master. It lends itself to many different kinds of styles.
My favorite fractal program is Apophysis. It is free. There is a growing library of scripts and starter files. It makes what is known as "flame fractals". I have no idea what that really means, but I usually know a flame fractal when I see one. The name is based on the method of calculation.
Another program I often use is Xenodream. It is inexpensive. It also has a collection of files that can be used to modify an image, and it allows you to make a three dimensional image. As you move about the field, you can see different sides of the image. I like to make fractal sculptures with this program. Part of the process of making an image is using what is called "lighting". This is something like shining spotlights of various colors on the object, but is somewhat more complex. You can also use their existing lighting collection, or, like me, design your own collection. When you use lighting, you will discover that the object will cast shadows on itself!
I also occasionally use Chaoscope, another free program. For this one, you need to have more of an intuitive understanding of the math involved.
Digital landscapes can be made in a number of programs. My favorite is Terragen, although I also use Bryce and Vue d'Esprit. There are now two versions of Terragen. Most of my work was done in the earlier version. I can import an actual digital elevation map and produce a landscape of a real place. I like to make about half realistic and half fantasy images.
I use Bryce mainly to make Hubisms. A Hubism is an abstract made by placing simple three dimensional objects inside a reflective sphere (well, most of the time anyway) and placing various colored lights in with them. Usually, you have a highly reflective surface, silver in color, on the sphere and the objects, but this can vary. These are then moved around with respect to each other, and the "camera", until you get an image that appeals to you. This is a tricky art form to use, because a slight shift in the position of anything can totally change the scene! Hubisms are named after Hubert Schaefer of Germany (a friend of mine), because he has developed most of the techniques and promoted the genre. A variation is Wilbyisms, named after another artist by, you guessed it, Wilby. :)
I also occasionally make either landscapes or Hubisms in Vue d'Esprit. The unique feature of this program is the realistic trees and other plants, which, when placed in the scene, are each unique from each of the others (different arrangement of branches in a tree, for example). I don't use this program much primarily because the plants are sold individually, and getting a reasonable collection is very expensive.
And I also occasionally will do photomanipulations in Paint Shop Pro. I can't afford Photoshop, unfortunately.
I will show different examples of my work in each genre in the coming days.
The image below was made in Terragen. It was inspired by a photograph by Art Wolfe. The terrain I used for this is an actual terrain in Utah, which I stretched vertically.
Fractals are images produced from mathematical formulas. Nearly all of them start with a formula known as the Mandelbrot Set. A fractal artist zooms into a part of the fractal that interests him, and changes it mathematically in different ways to produce the desired image. Then he uses the fractal program to prepare a little set of instructions that tell the computer how to calculate the color of each pixel. Then the computer is used to render the image.
This is one of my fractal images. I used the program Apophysis to generate it. Apophysis is a free program.
I will write a lens on fractals soon.
Art form promoted by Hubert Schaefer of Germany
A Hubism is a type of abstract that is made in a landscape program such as Bryce or Vue d'Esprit. It is made using reflective surfaces and lights, primarily. I have made Hubisms in both programs, and sometimes also incorporate transparent objects. I will write a Lens about Hubisms soon.
Here is an example of a Hubism. It is called Dolphin Playground.