Beauty Debate — Artist Spotlight: David Gerhard

Beauty Debate — Artist Spotlight: David Gerhard seeks to add to the deep art discussions that occur throughout Michigan.  To that end, is curating a show at Art Effect Gallery, which will open on March 3, 2012. will also host a panel discussion on February 29, 2012 at The Boll Family YMCA.  Through these events, explores concepts of beauty in contemporary art.

We will provide more information about the show and the panel discussion throughout this month and next month.  To begin the discussion, we will introduce you to some of the artists that will participate in the show.  The show consists of artists from Michigan, California, Illinois, and New York.  There are internationally known artists, and rising stars — all of whom bring a unique vision and point of view to our exploration of beauty.

The initial artist that we want to introduce you to is David Gerhard.  David’s work focuses on translating traditional processes into digital media.  David is unique among digital artists, because his work speaks with a distinct voice.  He creates emphemeral scenes that seem to talk about fleeting memories.  I have found that some digital artists are heavy handed with the techniques and effects available through work with digital processes.  Yet David does not fall victim to the allure of working within the digital age.  Rather he stays true to his own artistic voice, which allows for captivating imagery.

His unique and haunting imagery will provide a fascinating dialogue with some of the other artists who employ more traditional mediums in a more traditional manner — both of which add a needed and intriguing layer to ideas of beauty.  Below are David’s thoughts about beauty and an introduction to David’s thoughts about art. : What is your process?

David: My art usually starts with an idea and source images or videos. I make an image from various sources and move between media forms, often leaving aesthetic residue from one to the next. I’m interested in the changes in a viewer’s interpretation of an image over time. The ideas I explore vary. I’ve just finished a series of works focusing on pregnancy, birth, and parenthood. These include digital iPhone art and screen prints. I’m also working on a series exploring varying interpretations of reality and fragmenting the relation between the metaphysical and physical. : What is the definition of beauty?

David: Beauty is multifaceted. While thinking about this, I moved from Michelangelo to Dali, Mark Rothko to James Turrell, and realized the magnitude and diversity of beauty. Where beauty can be expressed aesthetically, it is not limited to aesthetics and often transcends simple visual cues. Beauty is a language. Beauty can communicate good, joy, peace, and be uplifting. Beauty can present dynamic experiences, the highest notions of humanity, the metaphysical, light and redemption. Beauty can be a rebellion against fear, upset, war, and hatred.

How can one concept be all of these things? It is dependent upon perception, which is subjective depending upon individual experiences, conscious and subconscious desires and fears. I have been thinking about this frequently with my recent iPhone art and screen prints, which have a fragmented aesthetic. As this art is often shared across social networks, I have the opportunity to hear feedback from a large group of people (some with education and investment into aesthetics and art, and some without). Frequently these fragmented aesthetic works have been described as beautiful. On more than one occasion, these fragmented works which had been described as beautiful, are then described by another as scary, frightening, or creepy, not beautiful in their eyes. One piece covers a spectrum because beauty is subjective. : Can there be a universal beauty?

David: No. It is impossible for one piece of art to be considered beautiful by every single person throughout all of time. But, beauty is universal. Every single person throughout all of time has perceived something as beautiful. : Is the phrase “all beauty is subjective” a cop out?

David: Absolutely not. Beauty is subjective. Someone may find my actions and work to be beautiful, while another does not. “All beauty” again refers to the universal. I think that it is possible to achieve a viewing of beauty across a large section of culture because there are shared experiences, with shared societal and subconscious viewpoints.
Perhaps here I backtrack on my last statement about universal beauty. There can be a universal beauty microcosmically speaking. Even at that stance, beauty remains subjective based on the definitions of beauty in that microcosm. If another microcosm was then approached with this “universal beauty” the reception would be different because of those differing societal and psychological factors.

The homogenization of America through the sex-saturated mass-media can lead to an unattainable definition of physical beauty. To me, this is an empty physically bound beauty which is not true, nor enveloping goodness. Sexy is not always beautiful. Some think sexy is the highest form of beauty. Beauty is subjective, perceived differently across our fragmented world. : Do you consciously think about beauty when you create?

David: I often try to use beauty conceptually to uplift an element of an artwork. In my pregnancy series, I portray a repetition of images which both grows and decays over time. As I viewed, and participated (as a partner and supporter) in my wife’s pregnancy, I came to view it as a time juxtaposed between beautiful moments of joy and utter happiness, and chaotic moments of anxiety and fear. In the screen print series as well as my iPhone art series, I used aesthetic beauty juxtaposed with chaotic fragmentation to communicate this. This visual ambivalence is vestige of the romantic lost whole. The art then asks the viewer to join these fragments and create meaning, mentally settling the chaos. When the viewer creates meaning, it is beautiful. : Should artists strive for beauty?

David: Art does not need to uplift, and it doesn’t need to be beautiful. Artists should strive for art that makes sense to them. There is a place for art that uplifts and is beautiful, and there is a place for art that critiques, questions, educates, and ilicits thinking in the viewer. : Are beauty and truth the same?

David: Not synonymous, but related. Beauty is truthful (read as perfectly aligning) to some sort of human need within us, which is why we respond to beauty (however we define it). : Does beauty relate to the sublime?

David: Similarly to how I see beauty and truth operating together, I see the combination of the two communicating as aspect of the sublime. Art that uplifts an individual on the most private level, which also promotes thought, is as successful and as close to the sublime as it can get. : Is there an overarching rejection of beauty in contemporary art criticism?

David: Understandably, there is a wake of rebellion against the zealots. The pervasive Greenbergian ideals gave way to an understanding of art as more than an idealized universal beauty in minimalist simplicity. As the scope of art exploded with postmodernism, beauty became a tool some used, and many rejected. It has been heavily debated. Art critics have one of the most challenging jobs in my opinion. To do a work justice, a critic need to become aware of its context and the microcosm in which it makes sense. Today, there are so many contexts that art lives within, I see a good critic is also a good researcher, sociologist, and writer. : Should there be skepticism towards concepts of beauty?

David: Not as I defined beauty above. I do think there should be more to art than rainbows and kittens. : Do contemporary prejudices about physical beauty go against concepts of feminism? Concepts of masculinity? Does the commodification of physical beauty tarnish all imagery of physical beauty?

David: It’s a fine line, and difficult to speak about generally because there are multiple lines of feminist thought. It seems to me that most of the philosophies empower women to be taking control and not being subservient in their choices, lives, societies, etc. Makeup does not do this.

Being a man is no more drinking beer, watching football, and working construction, as it is perfecting one’s body, wearing Gucci, and having sex. Being a man is about responsibility, care, discipline and mastery.

Women and men are more than surface beauty, actually a myriad of qualities that transcend the physical. Of course we exist physically and our physical presence is manifest of our experiences and fragments of our identities. : As artists or art critics, do we think too much about concepts of beauty and fail to appreciate beauty for what it is?

David: Art, like men and women, is deeper than the physical object, but not wholly separate from it. Art’s concern with beauty is in its communicative powers. I have so many beautiful pictures of clouds and ocean waves, which some would consider art worth purchasing. I took each of those photos because of the immense beauty of nature, hopefully one that I may be able to tap into when the right piece of art calls for it. I appreciate the beauty surrounding me everyday and often find it to be the beginning of aesthetic inspiration in my work. : What do you consider a beautiful painting?

David: Gerhard Richter Lesende (Reader), Dan Hays Overgrown Path, Julie Mehretu’s Untitled diptych from 2001, : Who do you consider beautiful?

David: My wife, and my son. : How have your thoughts of beauty changed during your lifetime?

David: As an adolescent I had to work harder to look beyond the physical. As an artist using a mobile devise to make art, I feel like the plein air painters because I’m constantly aware of the beauty around me. I’ll take a quick photo and begin editing and iterating as a concept forms. Beauty is often the impetus sparking this process. : Any other thoughts on the topic?

David: As beauty is subjective, and subjective is existing in the mind, I choose to see beauty in most things.