Turning the Tables: Artists using Artists for Art by Jeannine Cook

It was a strange feeling. Suddenly, I was asked to become the subject of someone else's art-making. And not just to sit for a portrait in the usual sense of the word. Portraits are usually fairly straightforward affairs, either commissions or records of friends and colleagues. Artists tend to use their fellow artists as subjects because they esteem them, share creative time together (such as Edouard Manet painting Monet working in his studio-boat) or even, sometimes, because they need an inexpensive model. But my request to be the subject was a little different, I learned.

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"Nothing Ugly in Art" by Jeannine Cook

Auguste Rodin asserted that "There is nothing ugly in art except that which is without character, that is to say, that which offers no outer or inner truth." (Remember that the very first sculpture he submitted to the Paris Salon was The Man with the Broken Nose, a sculpture that was the essence of what people normally considered ugliness, not only in the subject it portrayed, but also in the way the sculpture was executed, with an emphasis on the emotion of the piece and its rough, unfinished nature.)

Rodin, Man with a Broken Nose

Rodin, Man with a Broken Nose

Yet Rodin was, in effect, setting out on a course of teaching his viewers about a new vocabulary of art, a one that was more relevant to the time in which he lived, one that was truthful and more meaningful to his age. Perhaps every artist does the same thing, consciously or unconsciously. The miracle is that viewers, down the ages, seem to learn from artists how to enter into a dialogue, refocus their eyes and learn to adjust to what seemed ugly, jarring or strange before. That readjustment on the part of viewers represents the ever-renewing pact between artist and viewer.

I have just had my wonderful website wizard, Tracie of Traceable Creations, refresh the images on my website,, and I was reminded of what Rodin said about nothing in art being ugly as I looked at the Drawings page. 

Without realising it, I seem to be depicting more and more trees, tree bark, strange tree formations. All things which even I, years ago, might have hesitated to describe as beautiful. Now, however, I find them compelling, complex and highly eloquent – eloquent about the life those trees have led, the storms they have weathered, the droughts they have endured. They have become, for me, metaphors for a lot of what is happening to people all around, whose lives that have become even more complex and taxing than ever.

The inner truths about all these trees I find so fascinating are there to read if we want. They adapt, they endure, they grow in grace.  The scars of their lives add to their interest and individuality, their growth is logical yet idiosyncratic. Even in death, they are amazing.

Just like Rodin's Man with the Broken Nose, the trees all around us can be totally memorable. It makes me feel even more acutely that we need to be good stewards of all aspects of nature. Our daily lives can be so much more magical if we remember that there is nothing really ugly in nature, nor in art. It just depends on the focus of our mental and physical eyes.