Paris Goodnight: What exactly is art?

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 1, 2022

With the latest sculptures set to go up around town in just a couple weeks, the age old question that we have been known to ponder while strolling along Main Street comes up: what is art?

During such discussions, the final answer generally ends up with it being all in the eye of the beholder, such as one man’s junk is another’s treasure.

My personal favorite pieces of art sometimes include a juxtaposition, or something not exactly as you’d expect it to be on canvas or in a photograph. Two of those have roots in the hills of western Virginia, one a painting that includes a rhino standing at attention as a woman walks effortlessly by in the same piece. Another one is a photograph taken at one of my favorite hiking spots along the Appalachian Trail at McAfee Knob, where a ballerina complete in a tutu is seen on pointed toe at the edge of the precipice that overlooks the Roanoke Valley. That’s something you would never in a million years expect to see there. An enlarged version of the photograph has been displayed inside a Virginia hospital, while the painting has only been viewed by the artist’s Facebook followers and those who have been inside his basement studio.

There’s also a song out there about the rhino, but that’s one that hasn’t gotten many downloads on the latest version of Spotify that youngsters are getting their music on these days.

I also tend to enjoy the work of the old masters more than the newer modern abstract types. I recently watched the fall of the WeWork startup in the “WeCrashed” series, and one piece of art that a newly minted millionaire was eyeing to purchase looked much like a cartoon and had a price tag of a mere $48 million. To the average Joe, you couldn’t see much difference in that and the print you could buy for a few $10 bills.

I’m reminded of the joke we throw around sometimes about the difference between art and fine art: it’s usually an added zero on the price tag. A lot more zeros are showing up on some of those modern art pieces if they go up for auction these days.

If I ever hit the lottery, I might spend some small portion of my stash on that rhino painting, but I’m not sure I’d put a lot of money into other works no matter what the cost. I think if I really wanted a cool sculpture outside my house, I’d want it to be something I created. And since I have not one bit of talent in that arena, I’ll leave that work to those who know what they’re doing. I’ll just gaze and enjoy, or wonder what exactly the pieces put together really mean.

As for other works going on display locally, check out Ben Stansell’s report on the artist known as Abstract Dissent opening a new gallery downtown. And keep enjoying all the fine art Salisbury has to offer, from pieces by Clyde you might see in a storefront window to all the other true treasures our artists create.

Paris Goodnight is interim editor of the Salisbury Post.