Beauty is useful but not necessary for a good artistic effect. There are many works of art that are beautiful, of course, but there are others that are not. What they all have in common, if they are effective, is that they make us stop and look, and look again: they draw us in, entice us to explore further, to see how deep our minds can get into them. It is like a glass of a well-made wine, or an interesting look on a person’s face, or a word that just charms us: there is more, and more, and more, and we follow it as it lures us onward.
Effective art, in short, is illecebrous.
Take a look at the painting at the start of this article. It is illecebrous, and the face it presents is illecebrous. It is also “Illecebrous”: that’s the title that its creator, Ele Davis, gave it. Last week I spent a few days sitting right next to it: It is hanging, with some other works by Davis, in The Gentry, an espresso bar near where my parents live in Cochrane, Alberta, and I sat there with the same computer I’m writing this on now, getting some work done and drinking espresso-based beverages.
Illecebrous is illecebrous, too, at least for me. It is long and lithe, with the parallel lines of its liquid ll and the soft caress of the /s/ that’s shaped like c. It’s not obvious just what it derives from or what it means, but I’ll tell you: start with Latin lacere ‘entice’ and add an in (meaning ‘in’) that assimilates to il and shifts the following vowel, like lovers accommodating each other: illicere. From that comes a noun illecebra ‘charm, enticement’, and from that an adjective illecebrosus, and that, by some time in the early 1500s, arrived in English as this word. And you may not see right away how it’s said, but when you hear it, you hear “see” where you see ce – /ɪlɪˈsiːbrəs/, “illi see brus.”
Illecebrous is illecebrous for Ele Davis, too. That’s why she chose it as the title. I asked her (by email) how she chooses the titles of her paintings; she replied that she finds them on Pinterest. “These words pop up and I pick the ones that resonate with me and I file them away. Then I go through and pick one that suits a painting’s essence. I love to read and I’m a teacher so words are intriguing and add to the discovery of these works if anyone cares to look them up.”
Anything that is properly illecebrous leads to a good discovery, as does any good artwork. So here, today, is a discovery for you.