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?