Whitley column: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

February 9, 2017


What is art?

Reference a dictionary if you like. As passionate as I am about the power and meaning of words, I'll argue that this definition is subjective.

Selecting and purchasing art is deeply personal. My roommate, Heather, and I recently discussed this after I unpacked the few pieces I moved into her home. We've both received art as gifts, and we agree it's a risky proposition.

Don't get me wrong, it can be a thrill; my friend Amy Soverow, a glass artist, gave me a piece of lace-printed, glow-in-the-dark glass before I left for Colorado. It's beautiful, and it's special, a reminder of a dear friend and my birthplace. But there are big questions to consider before offering such a gift. Do you know a person's taste well enough to choose something the recipient will want to see daily? Do they consider art decoration, or an expression of something more?

(I'll admit, I can be a snob.)

Mass-produced work isn't my thing. I consider how a piece will look in my home and where it might hang — I'm not above "couch art." But I want art that moves me, that elicits some sort of emotional or intellectual response. A printed canvas from Bed, Bath & Beyond doesn't speak to me. A one-of-a-kind letterpress print, though? Yes, please. A reproduction of a local painter's watercolor? Let's be real, I probably can't afford the original. Bring on the print!

I first realized art didn't have to be expensive when I was in graduate school. Kentuck Art Center shared a block with my apartment complex in Northport, Alabama, and the gallery gained renown for its annual folk-art festival. The first Thursday of each month offered more opportunity to discover artists.

On one such night, Amos Paul Kennedy Jr. covered the gallery's longest wall with his letterpress posters. I walked over from my apartment and gaped at the colorful wall. Each poster was $10 — it never occurred to me that I could afford original art on a grad student's budget! I spent the better part of an hour studying the selection. That evening, I pushed a thumbtack through the chipboard, adding the "good coffee" poster to my bedroom décor.

Last week I walked to Glenwood Springs' downtown galleries and took in the variety of artwork displayed. Just as I did in Northport nearly 15 years ago, I noticed many affordable pieces. Buy a greeting card from Artist's Mercantile and frame it, and you've got an inexpensive but beautiful piece of local work. (I've employed this trick many times.) Stop in Art on 8th and claim a woven piece —made upstairs by Mountain Valley Weavers. Add a bit of beauty to your everyday life with ceramics at Cooper Corner Gallery. And each gallery offers so much more.

Art is what you make of it.

This weekend is full of chances to do just that, with Glenwood Springs Center for the Arts' "6×6" exhibit opening tonight and Glen-A-Palooza drawing people downtown. Recently opened exhibits also remain on display throughout the county.

As for me, during that gallery walk I spotted a print that just might become Heather's next present. Is it her idea of art or mine alone? I've got time to decide — her birthday isn't until September.

Carla Jean Whitley has purchased more art than she can afford to frame. Even so, she's always tempted by the next perfect piece. Reach her at cj@postindependent.com