The following includes half formed opinions and thoughts, hastily typed and "published." Disagreements are welcome:
Garrison Keillor wrote a fairly funny column about art last week. Apparently he's not a big fan of gallerias, so we don't have a lot in common there. His rant against the visual arts seemed to (in his standard, enjoyably facetious tone) fulfill some need to confirm his knuckles-and-blood masculinity, but I did agree wholeheartedly with one of his statements, quoted here:
"I see no reason to paint flowers. You can buy fresh flowers. Still lifes are only an exercise. And abstract expressionism is for the lobbies of big insurance companies."
Maybe that's why I like surrealism, cubism, all that (among some impressionists and expressionists and all the other movements that I don't know the name of). The only place you can see giant elephants with spider legs is in a Dali painting. When I open my front door in real life, I don't see the ocean.
The rest of the previous quote, I have a hard time agreeing with:
"The true calling of an artist is to paint women and the greatest challenge is the naked female form. That's what separates the true artists from the wallpaper-hangers."
As you draw, you're just replicating shapes and spaces, meaning the naked form is really no more difficult to replicate on canvas than a flower, unless you are altering or stylizing it in some extreme way, and really does no more to separate the "true artists" from the greeting card scribblers than anything else. Furthermore, if still lifes are completely unnecessary because of the existence of real flowers, couldn't you say the same thing about the naked form? The inspiration that can come from the existence of a living, breathing woman is incomparable to any inspiration from a cold painting, duh.
How can a writer and musician such as Keillor have such a flat, simple appreciation of art? Measuring an artist's ability solely by his aptitude to correctly translating real world shapes and lines to canvas is missing more than half the point of a painting. We don't buy art to hang things on the wall that we can see outside the window. We appreciate art that says something about the indescribable wretchedness and joy of the human condition. A real artist can give even the simple still life mentioned above greater meaning. The flower is no longer just a flower, it's whatever the artist made it to be on convas.