The Laws of Nature

Monday, July 18, 2011

Who's to Say?




Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose by John Singer Sargent



Thanks for all your substantive comments to my last posts! I want to pick up a thread laid down by our good friend Robin . She wrote: I always wonder who determines how meaningful one's work is anyway, but I guess if it matters to at least one person (me) that's enough. This is a good point to explore.


Who does determine if our work is meaningful? As Robin suggests, it does begin with the artist her/himself and then perhaps at least one other person who “gets it.” Generally, we often look to directors, curators, critics, and art historians to identify the meaningfulness of works of art. But, those influences are extrinsic to the individual experience of just standing before a work of art and connecting with it.


In March 2010, we discussed here Robert Henri’s book “The Art Spirit.” In it, he writes: The man who has honesty, integrity, the love of inquiry, the desire to see beyond, is ready to appreciate good art. He needs no one to give him an art education; he is already qualified. He needs but to see pictures with his active mind, look into them for the things that belong to him, and he will find soon enough in himself an art connoisseur and an art lover of the first order.


I think that’s really the bottom line. The discovery of meaning is a subjective experience and one that can’t be left to outside influences if it’s to be real. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve read (or heard) from an expert about the importance and meaning of a work of art before actually seeing the original in person. Unfortunately, I can’t forget what the expert said when I finally get to the museum, but I do try to personally connect and shake off the voices of others.


Then again, when we go to museums, we are automatically influenced by the notion that the works of art in it are meaningful and important enough to be archived and displayed in a building worth millions of dollars. And, works of art appear in newspapers and magazines with articles written by “experts” who dissect them for meaning.

But, maybe we need experts to tell us what we can’t learn on our own. Or, maybe we need only to heed Henri and make the whole thing subjective.


What do you think?

6 comments:

Studio at the Farm said...

Thank you, Katharine, for your provocative posts. I completely agree with Robert Henri, that art is a subjective experience.

Mark Sheeky said...

Everyone has their own opinion... I've seen lots of paintings and been amazed by them and convinced of their meaning only to discover that an expert thinks its about something completely different! It reminds be of the time I misheard the opening line of "I Am I Said" by Neil Diamond as "Ellie's fine, the sun shines most the time..." (instead of "L.A.'s fine"). I was sure that Ellie was a disabled girl and the sun in her head ensured she was happy inside despite being trapped by paralysis. The song quite moved me to tears until I realised I had got it totally wrong!

Anyway, to me each interpretation right or wrong adds value to an artwork, and each communication about it extends it... It will probably mean or feel something different to everyone. Whether it's a good or bad artwork is up to each person too, but if everyone knows about it then it becomes part of all of us.

I prefer my version of "I Am I Said", so here's to misinterpretation. Bah to experts, and in this case even the artist. Thanks, Ellie.

Margaret Ryall said...

This is a topic I've given lots of thought to since I began to paint. I've decided that there are levels of "expertise" when viewing art and the credence that we attach to opinion is based on why the work is being viewed. I need to feel my work is important (communicates) when I create it. I am not so interested in what the viewer takes from it, rather that a viewer will take the time to consider it.
Critics, curators, art writers have a role to play and specific backgrounds that influence their take on work. That does not mean that their considerations are any more important but that they are viewing with a different purpose and background knowledge. Isn't it great that one work can be considered by a broad audience and that opinions will vary?

Dan Kent said...

Thank you for introducing me to the gold that is Robert Henri, a fabulous book cover to cover.

Anyway, I draw and paint to satisfy an urgent need. In that sense it is personal to me. But I think it is mostly, for me, a form of communication. And if no one appreciated what I do, I have to wonder whether I would continue.

As for meaning, different people will interpret works differently because of their life experience. Different people will assign different value to the work because of their individual ability to relate to it. I think then that it is subjective.

The establishment assigns value as well, and that has a use too, to make sure that some art is in the public eye and to set standards for society. Fair? Probably not. Is the influence too strong? Probably. But civilized society sets standards for everything, not just for art, rightly or wrongly. It is the world we live in.

Robin Samiljan said...

I still question what makes an abstract artwork museum worthy, or rather, who deemed it as worthy, but after I have read a review or a bio it helps me to find meaning beyond the visual. I need that assistance when I am viewing abstract art.

Stan Kurth said...

Hi Kathy,

I don't have the blogging time I used to but I'm still lurking. Anyway I'm going to respectfully disagree. Art is a visual experience that transpires when you SEE something that strikes a chord regardless of title or artist signature. I look at a work and it moves me or it doesn't. If it moves me then I most likely will look at the title and if I'm lucky it doesn't sway my opinion. It may give clues to understanding but usually doesn't add or diminish the visual experience. If the title is that important why don't we just attach a brochure with a complete explanation. Sometimes I will title a painting with absolutely no relevance just because that's the kind of artist I am. In reality the explanation is in the eye of the beholder. If the artist can't engage the viewer in the visual it certainly doesn't matter what it all means and perhaps she or he should stick to writing about whatever they want. My point is all this fuss about names and titles is not what art is about. ART IS VISUAL! Titles may enhance or direct but if the engagement is not there to begin with a fancy name is not going to pull it off.

As for your paintings, again I have to disagree. I don't think I could name each according to its law but I sure think I'm seeing your overall theme and statement relevant to your intentions. And that doesn't really matter to me the viewer. If it turns me on and I don't know what it means I still win. In the case of your paintings it's the best of two worlds. I find this series exciting and I do get your drift. WIN WIN Do you recall my comment on the very first painting in this series? I feel it still applies to each. In fact if you were to give me a test on what the title and law is for each I would probably fail but does that diminish my visual experience any? NO! Here is that first comment on the very first painting in the series:

This is truly a masterfully painted work which compels the viewer to get an eyeful. As I dig in deeper I'm overwhelmed with the desire to touch and feel these fine objects because they are so perfected, yet I'm intimidated by their razor sharp edges and skin pinching proximity, or even the possibility of projectiles among them (Mamas don't let your babies get to close!) How do they work? What is their purpose? What is their origin? Are they perfected in the mind of a super surreal mechanical engineer? Or perhaps they're emanating from the nouveau techies collective gray matter. Whatever, they are beautiful; they are so wonderfully anodized with brilliant metallic color and coming at you full force with a warning. Look out for "equal and opposite" (the metaphor). A new force of action is upon us and we had better be careful.