The Everglades National Park
FIU IDH 4007

What is Great Art; what is Truth?

Christina Pope
IDH 4007
Fall Semester 2004

   I wonder what Clyde Butcher would say to me if I were to ask him to explain to me exactly how he feels when he is experiencing the Everglades and taking the amazing photographs of this beautiful place. Would his words come anywhere close to expressing his passion for the Everglades and other natural areas as his photographs do? Would his words be an even better explanation and expression of his feelings towards the Everglades than his photographs? How about Marjory Stoneman Douglas? What if I were to ask her to put her feelings and passion about the Everglades into a painting or into photographs? Would her works of visual art be a better representation of her connection with the Everglades than her literature? I think the better question is can any one person put their feelings for something into multiple forms such as verbal representation, literature, visual arts, or performing arts? You might have your occasional amazing talented person who can pretty much draw any painting, sing any song, or write any piece of literature and considered to be great at it. The reality is, however, that most people have their own individual way of expressing themselves whether it is in the form of art, literature, music, or in words. It all depends as to how they wish to transform their feelings and their passion.

   When looking at Clyde Butcher's photographs in his gallery, I was overcome by being able to see and experience the passion he has for the Everglades. His work showed me an angle of the Everglades that I had never seen before. His photographs opened my eyes to seeing the Everglades in a different way. My question then is this: would his photographs be considered great art? Is Clyde Butcher a great artist?

   Before I go on to answer this question from a personal point of view, it is important to address what great art, great literature, great music, etc really means. How can one truly define what great means in reference to something as subjective as art or literature for example? I have been in numerous art, music, dance, and literature classes where the teacher was actually able to give us a set of guidelines to determine whether or not a piece of art or literature was even considered art or literature, let alone being great. Unfortunately, in my path to discover how to determine what anything great is, I have found that none of these sets of guidelines were valid in helping me judge the piece of art.

   This brings me to the discussion we had during our lunch at the Loop Road Environmental Education Center today. During our discussion of Killing Mister Watson, the question arose as to whether or not this novel was considered great literature or if Matthiessen was a great writer. That then led to our discussion of judging art. In our discussion, several classmates brought up to the plate their own set of guidelines to determine whether or not a piece of art or literature is great. When first listening to this discussion, I had great difficulty coming to my own conclusion because everything that every classmate said seemed to make sense. Only one problem: all of those guidelines put together would make it nearly impossible to judge a piece of art or literature because what a piece of art might be judged as great in one category could be judged as inadequate in another category. How could this problem possibly be solved? After taking in what everyone had to say about art, I finally came to my own conclusion about what great art, literature, or music is. When thinking back through the times I had to judge something as subjective as art, the one thing that moved me to the point that I was able to say "that is a great work of art or music" was whether or not I could actually feel the creator's passion and emotions coming through the work, reaching out to me, grabbing me and saying "This is how I feel, this is what I see, and I want to share it with you so you can see the beauty the way I see it or feel it." Never once have I really concluded that a piece of music or art was great because it had a beautiful melody or was pretty to look at. In one way or another, the work moved me. I can best relate this to music because I am a singer and this is how I find music that I love. Because I judge things in this way, it is practically impossible to associate my tastes with one genre of music. I have found music that I have loved in the genres of country, pop, jazz, rock, alternative, new age, and the list goes on. The same applies to literature or the visual arts.

   This guideline for judging art may not be as affective for everyone; however, for me it has seemed to allow the most subjectivity to come into play in judging a work of art, music, etc. This is important because I believe, and will always hold as a belief, that art, no matter what the form, is subjective. Art, music, dance, and literature are not sciences even though there are those who will find a scientific equation to explain how each works. The core, the roots of each, in my opinion, comes from the subjective and personal aspect of human beings. Without this aspect, art, music, and literature seem shallow and almost meaningless.

   This brings me to the idea of truth. I believe that truth, if given an individual's subjective beliefs and emotions, can be found in any form that was created by that individual. Great art, in any form, holds the same concept as truth in my opinion. What is truth? How can we determine truth? Will we ever discover the complete and total truth about everything there is to know? I do not believe that is a possibility; however, I feel that an individual's attempt, using their passion and emotions, to discover truth is truth in and of itself. Just as art, truth is not concrete and cannot 100% judged to be the absolute, no questions asked, truth. Truth is found when experiencing one another's passions. Today, for me, truth was found through Zeke and his passion for the Everglades. Can Zeke paint an amazing painting, can he put his passion in music, and can he write an amazing piece of literature about his connection with the Everglades and be considered great? I think that as long as Zeke gave any one of theses forms of art his true emotions and passion, it would be great because it is a representation of what Zeke sees and feels about the Everglades, and that in and of itself is great. Being able to look into his eyes and know that he loves this amazing creation, the Everglades, was truth for me.

   The concept of truth is an apparent theme in Killing Mr. Watson by Peter Matthiessen. This novel discusses the life and death of a man known as E.J Watson back in the late 1800s to early 1900s. Watson was a man who traveled and lived in the ten thousand islands; a place where civilization had not yet come into full swing and laws, if there were any, were meant to be broken. Over several years, people kept dying in the areas surrounding Watson's presence. Some of these deaths were followed by Watson's disappearance, leaving the people of the ten thousand islands speculating that this man was killing people. The difficult part of the situation was that for most of the deaths, nobody had seen Watson commit the murders nor was there ever enough hard evidence to truly place the blame on him. The settlers of the ten thousand islands were still convinced that he was the one who committed the murders, and in the end they felt that he should be held responsible and hold the same fate as those he supposedly killed. In the end, Mr. Watson was unlawfully killed for the murders of several people, or was it just because of the murders?

   In discussing the concept of truth from the novel during Professor Wisdom's lecture, it became apparent that no matter how hard we tried to pinpoint the murders on Watson, it could not be concluded with 100% certainty that he committed them. When the "lawyer" in the class was asked a question about the evidence leading to Mr. Watson for the murder of the Tuckers, he brought up the technology of today. Explaining that with today's technology we could analyze and determine who left the evidence at a murder scene, it came to my attention that many consider this hard evidence as fact, and truth. But how do we know that this evidence really leads us to the truth of what happened, or who committed the murder or the crime? Yes it may be hard evidence proven by science, but how do we know that someone else did not plant that evidence and frame someone? How do we know that there was not a corrupt cop or forensic scientist that contaminated the evidence for personal motives? How do we ever really know? Becausethese are acts are caused by people, and all humans have a subjective aspect to their personality, I would have to say that even though science points us in the right direction, it still does not lead us to the 100% truth. The mere representation of this evidence by a human being can sway the plausibility of the evidence, making something look like something that it isn't. Professor Wisdom said an interesting quote: "truth happens to an idea." This means that you do not create ideas based on truth. Because I am still searching for my own meaning for truth, I cannot agree nor disagree with this concept. I can say, however, that it makes more sense than simply looking to science and concrete facts for truth.

   My personal resolve on the issues of great works of art and truth may not seem as concrete and sturdy as some may like, but it is as close to subjectivity that I can get without saying that a child who scribbles on a piece of paper because they lack the development of letters is a great artist. For me it is essential that as human beings, the subjective aspect of our lives must be a factor in any judgment that we make; whether it be art or truth. It is this subjectivity, passion, and emotion that make us human and not inhumane. With this personal insight, I leave you with two questions: what is great art; what is truth?

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