"Where's the beauty?!"
In the 80's, Wendy's ran an ad featuring what became a pop-culture slogan, "Where's the beef?"
In 2018, I'm seriously considering trying to coin a new slogan in response to my experience at art openings, "Where's the beauty?!"
Last night I went to yet another art opening which left me absolutely gasping for beauty. I found myself increasingly disturbed as I slogged around a maze of strange and chaotic works that reflected the strange and chaotic inner life of those who created them. Last night's show had a unique distinction in that I was unable to connect with the art even with printed descriptions of what the art was about. It was that chaotic.
After suffering through the chaos personally for a while, I stood in the back of the gallery and watched the people. What I noticed was that almost nobody was looking at the art! Occasionally, a person might alight on a piece and quickly fly away. Everyone else was just talking (and not facing the art) or looking at their phones. So. Sad. But not surprising. Who wants to gaze in wonder and dive deeply into a chaotic mass of material that looks like it was rolled in dirt? As I stood looking at another piece, all I could think of was the drop cloths I've thrown away after they became so tattered and dirty that they had become useless.
"Where's the beauty?!"
Don't get me wrong. I'm not against artists - or anyone else for that matter - working through their own inner turmoil or larger cultural issues of pain and brokenness. I have done that myself. And I understand the value of darkness and chaos and their role in the complex yearning we all have for light and redemption. The heart-deflating sadness which I am lamenting in this blog is art that depicts darkness and no light; chaos and no redemption; aesthetic discord and no aesthetic beauty.
As I process my experience last night - which reflects so many other experiences going to art openings - I'm reminded that most of the 150 Psalms in the Bible are laments; lyrical poems rife with angst, anger, chaos, pain, and brokenness. But almost all these laments include redemption and beauty. They are songs with hard, abrasive chords and sweet, healing, redemptive chords (i.e., beauty). My cry "Where's the beauty?!" is not a cry to eradicate darkness from artwork. It's a cry to at least include beauty's redemptive mark upon that darkness.