I'm a horrible artist, but a decent photographer. I think that's because I lack the ability to conceptualize something visual from scratch (other than words, but that's something else entirely). The hardest things for me to photograph are people in a studio setting and the occasional still life that I construct.
Let me use board games to illustrate my point: I'm a great Boggle player, but not very good at Scrabble. Boggle is about recognizing patterns within set parameters and literally connecting those dots (letters) to form a word. Scrabble is less structured— it's about creating the parameters and then recognizing a pattern. I can take a decent photograph because it's about framing things within parameters, as opposed to taking a blank canvas and creating something from scratch. That tangent had a point, which I'll come to presently.
Beauty is one of the many tools that artists use. I use beauty as my yardstick for evaluating things that are a) good and b) appeal to me. Knowing that Picasso painted gorgeous "traditional" subject matter before turning the art world on its head shows me that he's "good." And knowing that he's deliberately doing these things makes me sidestep the absence of straightforward (traditional) beauty and appreciate his cubist work as a) good and b) personally appealing. That is why I stood slack-jawed in the Musée Picasso, taking it all in, including the "Death of Casagemas" and the "Guernica"- era work last summer.
Incidentally, I couldn't remember what "Mademoiselles d' Avignon" looked like, so I googled it. The results included a Monty Python sketch and a French grammar lesson explaining that it's really "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon."
Expanded from today's e-mail exchange with Ben