Friday, April 6, 2018

Truth and Beauty and whatever happened to Woodsy Owl?

The Four R's

I have always recycled, just pretty much part of the daily routine, and everywhere I have lived it has been a simple and convenient task to accomplish. Sort the material, place it in the bins and set it next to the curb. Maybe it was growing up with Woodsy Owl in the seventies, teaching my children about conservation and that reducing our environmental footprint is just one of the ways to show you care about the planet we live on. As Woody’s says, "Give a Hoot-Don't Pollute!" and don’t forget the four R's: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rot (composting).

Truth and Beauty - Cardboard Tubes I oil on panel, 9 x 12 inches, Jim Serrett

So, I ask myself, why on trash day only three houses on my block have recycling set outside by the curb? Now let’s not jump to a conclusion here, maybe they are just better at reducing then me, or they just don’t have anything to set out. Maybe they are reusing? That is a valid hypothesis. What it is that they are doing we may never know, the truth may never be told.

“The average American generates 4.4 pounds of trash per day, adding to the grand total of about 258 million tons of trash the United States accumulates per year. American communities recycled and composted nearly 35% of municipal solid waste in 2014, diverting 89 million tons to recovery according to the U.S. EPA. Use the "Recycling Explorer" below to learn what to recycle and how.”

Toilet Paper Harvest – John Willhelm


And according to a press release by Kimberly-Clark a leading manufacturer of toilet paper, 

“17 billion toilet paper tubes are produced annually in the USA account for 160 million pounds of trash and could stretch more than a million miles placed end-to-end. That's from here to the moon and back -- twice. Most consumers toss, rather than recycle, used tubes,” 

says Doug Daniels, brand manager at Kimberly-Clark the parent company of Scott Bathroom tissue which is ditching the cardboard tube for a more environmental friendly tubeless tissue roll, Scott Naturals Tube-Free Bath Tissue. The invention of tubeless toilet paper will not only reduce the environmental impact associated with making paper, but also reduces the amount of waste generated. Just seems like such a small change for so much positive green impact. On their website you can use a simple calculator to find out how many tubes your household uses and illustrates the magnitude of the problem. The answer will surprise you. link:

Cardboard Tubes II, Graphite on paper, Jim Serrett


The truth is I did not know how much waste was generated by TP rolls. We were recycling cardboard when I started playing around and drawing on it because of the nice neutral color and mid tone value. One thing leads to another and so here we are making art, paintings of cardboard tube compositions and drawings on back of cereal boxes. This is the honest account of why these images exist. And yet they are the creations/handiwork of a questioning mind, which is one of the key ingredients of creativity. You must let things germinate and progress, what sprouts from this can be at times surprising.

Truth and Beauty - Cardboard Tubes II oil on panel, 9 x 12 inches, Jim Serrett

That is the “simple” truth. The complex truth or deep end of the of pool is that art can affect us on two different levels - emotional and intellectual. The pursuit of art by drawing, painting, etc is first a search for knowledge. An intimate understanding of a thing through investigation, (examining its shape, form, color, place in space, all those physical things) to know its "truthfulness" or be able to render the appearance or semblance of truth “verisimilitude.” For the representational artist, verisimilitude is often more important than perceived truth. The second part is an emotional truth, that we are seeing or experiencing something honest and authentic, these truths are the esoteric products of artistic contemplation. This is often spoken about as when, “an artist bares his soul.” It is that share humanistic moment in art where we understand what another person felt and perceived.  The importance in the second part is that the observer feels the honesty behind that emotion. Truth reveals some type of knowledge and enlightens a deeper experience of reality.  

“The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.” – Aristotle


You often hear the sayings “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” or “beauty is fleeting”. That the “beholders” idea of beauty is filtered through their personal decisions, life experience, interest, beliefs, education, environment, and influences, etc., giving us each a different sense of beauty. Because as humans we are constantly evolving emotionally and intellectually, then would not our concept of beauty also be constantly evolving. Which brings us to the axiom that beauty and thus art is subjective?

 If that is truth, then why do certain images transcend generations and cultures?

In this digital age, we are bombarded with imagery, it is literally everywhere we go, and we seem to require it constantly. Streaming video, televisions of every conceivable size, and in every conceivable place, smartphones, texting, personal computers, laptops and tablets galore, never-ending video games and internet to fill every waking moment. To the point we are addicted to imagery. You would think that would be good for the visual arts or for the understanding of visual aesthetics. But instead it creates even more confusion, where glamour, style, trends, celebrities all becomes elevated to the same status as beautiful or to substitute for beauty.

There are lots of “pretty “pictures around, visit any design store/home furnishing outlet and you will see endless attractive images, but are they beautiful? Are they art? Can a thing be “too” pretty? Also, there are just as many “un-pretty” things that are appealing. Modern art seems to be preoccupied with “ugly”, the more disturbing, repulsive or absurd the better. And the more it legitimizes their modern aesthetic of “anti-beauty” that the expression of the idea is what is beautiful. That these “objects d'art” and images because of their expressive content are beautiful, that beauty is a just a concept. Beauty is in the mind of the beholder?

Why is Michelangelo Buonarroti considered more important an artist than say, Stephen Hillenburg? Stephen Hillenburg is the creator of the cartoon character and animated television series “SpongeBob SquarePants”. A hugely popular and award-winning cartoon which has a following of adults and children. I cannot imagine anyone who does not know of SpongeBob, but maybe a handful of people can name its creator. Everyone knows who Michelangelo is, but try to get someone to name one of his works. By that truth you would expect Hillenburg to be a more influential or famous of the two artists.

By our subjective “eye of the beholder” premise, they both create images that are equally pleasing. Standing in front of the sculpture David or watching episodes of SpongeBob on an iPad would bring the same satisfaction, equally on both the emotional and intellectual level.

We know that is not true. Now before I get hate mail from SpongeHeads (yes, there are people who identify themselves as such), I am certain SpongeBob can be thought provoking and profound and is uniquely creative. However, all things are not equal.

With mainstream media telling us what beauty is, and modern art telling us what it is not, and knowing that all things are not equal, it is no wonder people say art or beauty is subjective. It is just easier than the complicated philosophical subject it is. Our image of beauty can be deceived and manipulated, influenced by our changing perceptions of the world. Different people see things differently, so one would think you could never get a group of people to agree on what it is and yet, there are objects and works of art that seem to be inherently beautiful to all humans.

Since no one can agree on what beauty is. Does that tell us that there is not a universal idea of beauty? Where does beauty fit in, what is its place in art? Maybe the Modernist are right, beauty is a concept. So, beauty alone does not equal art? Maybe this is where truth comes back into the experience. We accept that there are universal truths, things understood by all that fit into fact or reality (Universal Truth can be a debate for another time), “empirical” truths verifiable by observation or experience. For the artist to create a connection and interpret a visual moment so that another human can understand it, it must have some truth. It becomes a shared experience on an emotional or intellectual level. Works of art which have that quality stand the test of time.
We cannot ignore the connection of truth and beauty.

Cardboard Tubes III, WIP, Graphite on Cardboard Box, Jim Serrett

 Art - verisimilitude and the sublime.

There is a rich tradition of verisimilitude in art that reaches far back to humankind’s earliest efforts to describe the world, from the early Greek sculptures, through the Renaissance and the 19th century academies. Verisimilitude; Aside from being fun to say, verisimilitude (pronounced ‘VAIR-ih-sih-MILL-ih-tude’) simply means ‘the quality of resembling reality’ and a work of art, or any part of a work of art, has verisimilitude if it seems believably realistic. The “naturalistic,” seemingly true-to-life, representation of objects and especially of human figures with emphasis upon the expression of emotion.

Through our own intellectual evolution, our requirements of art have become more sophisticated and also those skills associated with creating art. Those artistic techniques developed became recognized as skills that require both patience and technical talent and are worth preserving and appreciating. Our artistic ancestors placed a high value on the craft of making and creating representational art.
When I think of the word verisimilitude, I remind myself that the synonym for it is truth.

Beauty, real lasting beauty that touches another human being is more than just an image, marks or lines. In some way beauty must be a feeling, an evoked emotion and have an inspiring quality. It steps in where speech fails, communicates beyond language and time and creates a dialogue between the artist and the viewer, it becomes a shared aesthetic experience. Art provides us with an understanding of the world which goes beyond the real, it is this transcendental nature which cannot be rationalized, when both beauty and truth are present in art the aesthetic of the sublime emerges.

The “Sublime Experience” is that shared visual experience which has a transcendental nature,
Not only because it reveals “truths" of the world, but also an emotional understanding that transcends words or language and connects us to the larger experience of existence. 

Art for me comes from a very simple place, it does not need complicated conceptual agendas or philosophical context. When artists search for those simple truths and the beauty of our existence, we will always offer society different ideas and perspectives. And when we hone our skills, our visual language to speak with clarity, this is the height of all great art.

Beauty is truth, truth beauty-John Keats

And where are you stretching your own boundaries?

Explore - Question - Learn - - Enjoy, Jim 

Website - 
Studio Blog - 
Landscape Blog - Pochade Box Paintings

Credits and Links:

Woodsy Owl U.S. Forest Service and USDA

SpongeBob SquarePants created by Stephen Hillenburg

Toilet Paper Harvest –  John Willhelm - Photography (used by permission)
The amazing photography of John Willhelm 

Verisimilitude (pronounced ‘VAIR-ih-sih-MILL-ih-tude’) Definition

Why Beauty Matters - Philosopher Roger Scruton

Studies for the Libyan Sibyl, circa 1510–1511, by Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475–1564). Red chalk, with small accents of white chalk on the left shoulder of the figure, sheet. 11 3/8 inches by 8 7/16 inches. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, purchase, Joseph Pulitzer bequest. (The Metropolitan Museum of Art

No comments:

Post a Comment