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Falling in Love IN -- not WITH -- Tombstone

It has always been a noble and unselfish thing on my part to leave the tourist kitsch of Tombstone AZ for others to enjoy. I've never set foot in the place until yesterday. But I offered to take a woman to dinner, and we knew there would be some places open in Tombstone on Easter. Under the right circumstances even a ridiculous place can be enjoyable.

Naturally, after lunch, there was the obligatory and painfully slow tour of so-called art galleries, aka, bauble and trinket shops.  What is this perverse fascination that colorful junk holds for women?

Now a music cue should break in. The romantic music should swell, as the two lovers run to each other in slow motion from opposite ends of a flowery meadow. This is no April Fool's joke. And I even have a witness. On the far wall was a large painting that wowed me. This was only the second time in my life that a painting appealed to me. This seems odd, so naturally it must be explained.

In Arizona it's hard to believe that somebody would paint an object other than a saguaro-in-front-of-colorful-sunset, a kokopelli, or, more locally, a windmill on the grasslands. But here was a painting of a shallow vertical sidewall of an arroyo, with plant roots exposed. You can walk by so many examples of this in the Southwest. They might only be a few inches tall, or maybe 30 feet. Regardless of the size, I have always been attracted to them.

15 foot high vertical side-wall of an arroyo in NM.

For years this confused me. Appreciating geology can be difficult. It can be off-putting to consider how old visible geology is. Processes are so slow that geology seems static.  It's easier to get pulled into geology when you can visualize it as dynamic processes; the limiting case of this is a topographic feature that could conceivably be drawn in the landscape during a human lifetime.

Thus a small sidewall helps you appreciate the topography/geology in much the same way that a dog helps you appreciate any number of things in the outdoors world: they both serve as stepping stones that enable your first baby-steps from the confines of the Self. Once that process is started, you could eventually melt into the outdoors world.

So I have nothing but compliments for the artist of that painting. They added pleasant southwestern colors, which looked lush in this painting because of the austere subject matter. In fact the contrast was violent. 

There is a violent contrast of that type all over southeastern Arizona right now. Despite the winter rain, the grass is yellow and decrepit. The mesquite looks lifeless. Even thorns seem to lack their usual higher sense of Purpose. Tawny yellow/brownness sounds merely boring. But the contrast with the young green leaves of the cottonwoods (that delineate the rivers) will stop you dead in your tracks.

To a stereotypical woman, natural beauty in a painting means little more than that it's color scheme matches the window drapes. To a stereotypical macho knuckle-dragger, natural beauty means anything that's vertical and freakishly large. 

But there are so many qualities that are real and interesting in nature: cruel necessity, harshness, stubborn survival, discomfort, courage, youthful play, maternal sacrifice, and many others. That is why this painting is so important. It encourages the viewers to take that first step towards liberating themselves from the tyranny of trivial prettiness. How that painting ended up in Tombstone is a mystery.

Let's conclude with an analogy. We all know that people are least likely to be funny when they are too obviously trying to be funny. I am suggesting that the same is true of artists  who are focusing too directly on producing beauty: they glob on layer after layer of prettiness until they think Beauty will result. They would be more successful if they thought more about one of the qualities mentioned last paragraph, and let beauty be produced as a byproduct of some conflict. When the viewers don't think the artist is spoon-feeding them, they are more likely to imagine beauty. 


XXXXX said…
Although folks all have very different ideas about what constitutes beauty, it seems that every human being appreciates some brand of beauty nevertheless. Seems to be a clear line in the sand though between human beings and other mammals. Best as I try to determine if they can appreciate beauty, it doesn't seem so to me. I surely do respect and appreciate the intelligence that exists in other species, but the ability or lack thereof to appreciate beauty is a curiosity for me.
XXXXX said…
I just got a good laugh. All of a sudden those old brylcream days popped into my head, and then when that passed, it was the really wide collars and the long sideburns. Yadda yadda. It's amazing how those looks seemed so beautiful (well, handsome) at the time and now look so ridiculous. It is really an amazing phenomena when you think about it, how beauty doesn't remain constant. I went for the borderline ruffian look with a strong conservative undertone. You know, I wanted to look dependable but also willing to break a few rules if necessary . LOL.
Yes that does seem to be a dividing line between homo sapiens and other species. So too with humor.