JR: Tell me about this painting? Who is the artist? Does it belong to you? Is it more than a coincidence that the subject matter of the painting is Calla Lilies and your name is Kalla?
KS: This is an oil painting that was gifted to me by my roommate of four years our freshmen year Christmas. My roommate, Erin Rajewski, is also the artist of the painting. Erin went to a Waldorf school for grade school and high school and their education places a lot of emphasis on visual learning. She was required to take at least one art class every year since kindergarten; thus, her painting skills are quite sublime. It is not more than a coincidence that the subject of the painting is Calla Lilies; however, I did not request those flowers to be the subject. Erin chose to paint Calla Lilies because when we were first introduced, she asked how to pronounce my name and I replied, “Kalla, like the lily”. So, she now always associates my name with the flower.
JR: What a kindness, for Ms. Rajewski to have painted this for you! In what way (or ways) do you think that the story behind the painting (including your relationship with the artist) impacts your experience of the painting (by “your experience” I mean literally: how you perceive it)? Also, in what ways does it contribute to the meaning of the painting to you?
KS: The story behind the painting positively impacts my experience of the painting. Whenever I view the painting, I think about the time and thought the artist expended while creating the picture with the objective of showing a kindness towards the recipient (myself). It is comforting to know that I meant so much to someone that it provoked the desire within them to devote time into creating a unique painting for me. I have always held the belief that handmade gifts hold the most meaning because they are one-of-a-kind and are created with the recipient’s character and preferences in mind. To put things in perspective, I would feel more sorrow if this painting was destroyed versus if an expensive item that I bought was destroyed. To me, this painting is irreplaceable. Even if the artist devoted time into creating me another replica of this painting, it would not hold the same meaning nor look exactly identical to the original painting. Overall, the subject of the painting is not what gives the painting its meaning; instead, the intentional thoughts and actions that the artist experienced during the creation of this painting are what give the painting its meaning to me.
JR: Does this mean you think that beauty is not merely (or at least not always merely) a sensible formal property of a beautiful thing but that beauty can also have to do with other, extrinsic or relational properties of the beautiful thing? (For example, that your judgment that your painting of calla lilies is beautiful is in part owing to facts about the painting’s genesis and what the artist’s effort and generosity convey.) Or do you want to say, in the case of your painting of calla lilies, that while these extrinsic features contribute to the painting’s value to you they don’t in any way contribute to its beauty?
KS: That poses a rather difficult question, for I can see truth to both options. Suppressing all biased thoughts and emotions it evokes within myself when viewing it, I cannot deny its objective beauty. I would remain adamant about its beauty despite my history and ownership of the painting. However, given the connection I have with the painting and its origin, there is an added element to its beauty that would not exist without this extrinsic connection. To elaborate, considering the personal qualities this painting possesses such as my relationship with the artist and the time and effort that was dedicated to its creation, there’s almost a feeling of obligation to recognize its beauty. This ‘obligated beauty’ does not involve the enhancement of the aesthetic of the painting to me as the viewer, instead, it’s almost as if a personal, loving relationship was automatically established between me and the painting. I would equate this beauty to a scenario where a child creates a doodle with the intent of giving the picture to their parent. While the doodle is quite amateur, this parent will most likely hang it on the refrigerator and boast about how their child created this picture as a result of the loving and strong relationship the child and parent share. I believe my situation is slightly different because of the painting’s undeniable beauty regardless of its genesis; however, its relational and extrinsic properties definitely heighten its beauty to me as the viewer. Therefore, I agree more with the former of your question.
JR: How important is it (and in what ways is it important) for you to have beauty and experiences of beauty in your life and on a regular basis?
KS: It is extremely important for me to have and experience beauty on a regular basis. I categorize objects and experiences as beautiful by how they make me feel. Specifically, when viewing or experiencing beauty, a powerful awe-striking and almost euphoric feeling overcomes me. It is a feeling that can be so powerful that it is capable of positively affecting my mood. For example, objects such as my Calla lily painting and experiences such as a coffee date with a friend I haven’t seen in a while are capable of evoking this feeling regularly in my daily life. However, not all objects and experiences of beauty are created equal. It is important to expand one’s palette of beauty to more than just the items and experiences that are encountered in one’s everyday life. Regularly experiencing or viewing beauty of an exotic variety is also important to me. To elaborate, to suppress feelings of monotony and emotional and intellectual confinement, exploring beauty outside of my usual environment is also important for my mental health. For example, for fall break this year, me and my friend visited my friend’s sister on her study abroad in Barcelona. I experienced the historic and beautiful sites of Tibidabo, Monestir de Montserrat, and Casa Mila to name a few. The ability to break from my usual routine and experience this unique beauty almost evokes a feeling of enlightenment. It is as if I was mentally refreshed and able to return to my routine beautiful experiences with a new sense of appreciation. To clarify, visiting Spain is an extreme example of this break in routine, to experience new beauty could be as simple as driving a little further down Burbank Road and appreciating the vastness of where I decided to go to school. Moreover, whether it’s beauty I experience on a regular basis or beauty I experience for the first time, these experiences always follow with a sense of positivity. Without beauty, the difficult situations would seem more impossible and it would be harder to seek meaning in objects and experiences.