By Nathan Kiwere
One of the greatest paradoxes that set art apart from all other disciplines is the lack of a universal definition of beauty. After all, art and beauty have for long been perceived as inextricably intertwined.
But that could be a delusion; that the purpose of art is to generate beauty. Not all artists are, in fact, motivated by or inclined towards beauty. As one brilliant mind cleverly postulated; just like contact lenses, beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder.
It is also not uncommon in art criticism to grapple with such questions as “is this or is this not a work of art?” Years ago, for instance, an expatriate in Kampala commissioned a renowned Ugandan art professor to execute her portrait. After it was finished, the client was stunned – if not traumatised – by the portrait that confronted her.
She felt that the image on the canvas fell short of her true self. The good professor’s defense; that his intention was not to imitate the exactitude of her face with photographic precision but rather to express his personal feeling about it, did not move the lady. Clearly, that had not been the aspiration of the client.
Such disagreements reveal another complexity about art; that we cannot assume that our interest in something will be identical to how it was meant to be of interest in the first place. Art lovers are often aware that all artwork has the capacity to transcend its original circumstances.
As observers, we are generally allowed to like things for reasons other than those for which they were made. But this divides audiences into a surfeit of categories that are defined by their level of awareness and to a great extent complexity. It explains why certain types of art appeal to specific groups and why some collectors are inclined to pay any amount of money for art that others will scoff at as awfully snooty or even escapist. , the idea that some things are worth looking at is universal to human society, even when what is selected as worth looking at turns out to be peculiar to particular times, people, and places.
Many artists have, as a result, escaped the critical eye of the public over discrepancies surrounding what is or what is not beautiful art.
Even abstract art forms, have not been spared. There even could be baseless and devious art making rounds in the public gaze aimed at hoodwinking unsuspecting collectors and unformed art lovers with the safe cover of nouveau idealism rather than legitimate creativity founded on talent.
Prof. George Kyeyune of the Makerere art school considers himself a free-thinker unhindered by any barriers both in his oral and visual expression. The British-trained scholar has over the years been churning out paintings and sculptures whose appeal ingeniously toes a middle line between simplicity and sophistication.
The usually semi-abstract works are a mirror reflection of everyday society with a tinge of satire. His application of paint using a palette knife seems casual from a cursory look and yet a critical observation of the same reveals a deliberate profundity of technical picture construction.
This is how I determine that whereas the question of standardisation of beauty in art appreciation may never be achieved; there is one human universal that will never be escaped: that humans creating, viewing, or using art, always do so using