Beauty in Black and White

Pam Farrell, Graphite with Red, 2008, 18" x 18", graphite and oil on panel

Kate Beck, Canyon. White, 2007, 84" x 60", oil on canvas

Recently on Edward Winkleman's blog, there was a lengthy discussion about beauty in art. Edward's question was, "Why is everyone so afraid of beauty?". Not a surprising question, but still an odd and slippery one to ponder. First, who says "everyone" is afraid of beauty? One thought is -- maybe it's the word itself that is a problem for some. Maybe the word carries too much baggage in the realm of cliche and sentimentality, and is just too encumbered to be useful in the context of contemporary art. Maybe some people are so accustomed to thinking literally that they don't consider the broader applications of the notion. Well, maybe... but the idea of beauty is after all entirely subjective, and related to the perception of formal, conceptual or aesthetic integrity. To call something beautiful is to declare it to be remarkably integral. Whether one likes the word or not, the broad concept of beauty is inseparable from considerations about art.

I often focus on lively color as a key element in abstract painting -- an element that is a potential catalyst for notions of beauty, and is endlessly dynamic and unpredictable. But I also really love black paintings and white paintings, and have never been able to accomplish either myself. To me, the rich deep black of a bucketfull of tar; the silken cool whiteness of a freshly plastered wall -- are beautiful things. And there is of course undeniable beauty in the rigor and austerity of Reinhardt and Ryman.

Above are a couple of painters, Pam Farrell from New Jersey and Kate Beck from Maine, who are not afraid of beauty, who sometimes work in the range of black and white, and who successfully mine their media and impulses to make paintings that are quite "remarkably integral".