Lovely and Dangerous: “For Display Only” – ArtPrize 36136 by Ellen Nelson

Guns“For Display Only” really hit me in the eye. The many vividly colored objects in the five oil paintings were arranged like five lovely explosions—or maybe like multicolored flowers: one explosion of champagne bottles, jewelry and purses; one explosion of plastic toys; one explosion of pills and syringes; one of fruit, nuts, pastries and candy; and one of guns.

But why?

Was artist, Ellen Nelson, displaying without judgment a variety of modern stuff—stuff that is readily available to, middle class people? Was she saying it’s fun to see how artfully these things can be arranged.

There was much more to it. When I looked at the artists comments about her work, I learned that the images were commentary on how consumer goods are presented as attractive solutions to our needs. Nelson says:

“In order to slowly diminish our social capital, and encourage us instead to attempt to buy solutions to all of our sadness and disconnectedness, consumer goods and what they Champagne and Jewelryrepresent need to look unrealistically beautiful. But what we always end up finding is that the reality of our world is much more serious – the beauty is for display only.”

So all this stuff, she is saying, can’t live up to the promises we seem to be bombarded with.

Still, the wonderful explosion of food, seems innocuous enough—a blossoming of sliced fruits, lettuce, pretzels, olives and donuts. But think of the food you take home from the super market. Have you noticed that the most perfectly red and round tomatoes, when taken home, don’t taste like the garden tomatoes you ate when you were a kid? And what about those donuts! We know that seeing them makes us salivate for something that is not good for us. I even think I saw candy in there!

If you can possibly get by four of the paintings without bells going off in your head, they start clanging when you see the guns. There they are—colorful, symmetrically arranged—and so  tantalizingly purposeful. You know, though, that the painter is thinking beyond beauty, and so you think beyond the beauty—to the terrible, deadly power beyond the display.

Food and CandyI guess the companies, stores, and manufacturers that are the sources of all this stuff know the power of making them attractive. Nearly $60 billion is spent each year to attract us to it all. And dare we suspect that the bulk of that dough is not spent on useful information, but on lovely videos, flowery words and magical promises?

Ellen Nelson may be trying to instill some caution in us. I am reminded of the story of Eve in the garden. She succumbed to the deadly goods when she saw that the fruit Satan offered “was a delight for the eyes.” Whether it’s fruit, toys or guns—don’t confuse appearance with reality. It’s a setup. This stuff is “For Display Only.”


See all 1453 entries and learn all about ArtPrize, the largest art contest in the world.
See this year’s winners of $500,000 in prizes.

See all of Ellen Nelson’s paintings at her ArtPrize page
Read my other writings on ArtPrize 8 – 2016:
Changed by Duty – ArtPrize Entries 62872 and 63295

The Butterfly Effect – Entry 62931 ArtPrize 2016 by Bryce Pettit” (I saw this first place winner on our first day visiting ArtPrize and loved it.)

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