The Beauty of a Rose
When listening to the podcast Works of Art by Agnes Martin and Hiroyuki Doi, John Green shares an incident in which gallerist, Arne Glimcher’s eleven year old granddaughter Isobel visited artist Agnes Martin. Isobel held onto a rose. Agnes Martin seized the rose from the little girl’s hand and asked her, “Is this rose really beautiful?” To which Isobel replies, “Yes.” Martin then placed the rose against her back and asked Isobel, “Is the rose still beautiful?” Even when the rose was hidden behind Martin’s back, Isobel answered yes. The point of this interaction was to address the fact that the beauty of the rose was in Isobel’s mind the entire time, not in the rose itself.
As an artist Agnes Martin does not try to paint a rose, rather the beauty the rose possess. Her art provokes the subtle emotions that we feel without pause in this world. While her paintings may be beautiful, that is not the desired purpose of the art piece. Martin paints the feeling of beauty that survives the world’s ugliness.
Martin’s view of the purpose of her artwork reminded me of a similar idea addressed in the book Flipped that I read back in eighth grade. There was a quote that stuck with me from this novel. “A painting is more than a sum of its parts.” After Jules–the protagonist, hears these words from her father she begins to wonder if the classmates she’s grown up with are more than the sum of their parts. Are they more than a pretty painting to look at?
I united Martin and Isobel’s interaction with Jules and her fathers. Martin explains to Isobel how she felt about the rose. How its beauty was in Isobel’s head–not the actual rose itself. Similarly, Jules’ father addresses that, “a painting is more than the sum of its parts,” indicating that there is more to a painting than what you see. What the painting or rose provokes and how that makes you feel is the purpose of art.