The Laws of Nature

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Understanding Art

It’s mind-boggling how many books, essays, and articles have been written to instruct others on how to understand art. Analyses of technique, composition, materials, meaning, etc number as many as the stars in our galaxy and yet we seem to need more of them every year. Art has been put under a microscope. Although we artists hope our work will draw attention, but do we really need someone to act as an intermediary between our creation and its viewers? Do we really need someone else to explain to the public that which our art naturally speaks for itself?

One could argue that we all need to be educated into understanding art. Certainly that would be true for learning about materials and techniques. Perhaps it’s also helpful to the viewer to learn about the circumstances surrounding the creation of a work of art, and many analyses offer this type of instruction. Since I spent most of my career as an academic, I can’t argue against instruction. But, as an artist, I want my work to speak directly to viewers without the interference of an intermediary.

And, when you think about it, who really understands “art” anyway? I like this quote from an Ezine article by Redi Zartey:

Understanding art in its totality is almost an impossible task for a human being. There are over 3,600 terms in art to be understood. And these are not definitive in nature. Art is when you are free to redefine these.

What’s your opinion?


Robin said...

I either connect to an artwork, or I don't. I don't feel a patron is required to study art in order to feel something when viewing it. I do however think reading books about technique as well as the motivation behind a particular artist's work is interesting and can enhance my feelings toward what I am viewing, but my intuition is what connects me.

Dan Kent said...

I'm with Robin. Although it helps to understand something about the skill level, the mediums, and the history, art needs to connect to my gut or I don't connect to it.

William Cook said...

It all comes down to how one processes the information. The artist sets forth visual information with the intention that when it's finished, thats all he had to say. He wants you to take it in the way he presents it.

Then the art speak freaks show up and glom on to the poor artist's innocent picture with all their booshwa, like "He had just cut off his ear", or "He was the master of the enigtmatic smile", or "His family owned a dye factory". Then all the sudden you're supposed to 'get it', and the work looses it's edge/mystery/charm/mojo.

If my painting lifts someone off the ground for a few miunutes, with Eric Satie going on in their head, catching their breath while involuntary electric currents race up and down their spine; my life will have been worthwhile in spite of where I was living at the time, who I studied with or what color socks I was wearing.

For what it's worth, I can't stand the Mona Lisa. She looks like she just sat up for the first time after the surgery. I mean get some sun already, and put on some make up or something. Damn! I maybe could moderate my opinion if I knew that people were much uglier back then and she was considered a knockout. Wm

Mark Sheeky said...

Perhaps art reflects the artist, so to understand all art is to understand all people... a difficult task! I suddenly pity the art critic :) After years of analysis Kathy I wonder what you understand about art?

M said...

I always like to hear some commentary for the artist about a particular work. I don't need this to like a work. I just find it interesting to know what thoughts led to the execution of the work. I am often annoyed by a "critic" writing about work from his/her viewpoint and inserting meaning that was never meant by the artist.

-Don said...

When I hear a song that I really connect with I want to know more about the songwriter/singer. What I learn about them in no way affects how that song resonated with me. It just makes me feel I know the creators better.

When I see a performance by an actor that just blows me away, I want to learn more about that actor. What I learn makes me feel I know the person behind the 'mask' a little better, but in no way does it affect how their performance affected me. For instance, I still love the work Charlie Sheen did for "Two and a Half Men", but I am totally unimpressed with his personal exploits.

It's the same way with visual art for me. Knowing something about the artist might help me better understand what they created, but it does not decide for me how I feel about the work. I heard about 'crazy' van Gogh all my life and had studied copies of his works in print, but when I got in front of one of his works for the first time I was BLOWN AWAY. Conversely, I had studied Gauguin in depth in college and was told how great he was, but when I got in front of his work - nothing. I was less than impressed.

I guess that what I'm trying to say is that if a work of art from any discipline resounds with me I want to know more about the creator of said work. However, no matter how much I know about an artist and their intent will this determine for me how I'm going to feel about their work until I get in front of it and let it speak to me for itself.


Casey Klahn said...

I just wrote a short post on this.

Linda Roth said...

I've said it before, art is not about words, it's instant communication upon sight. --If it needs some explanation-- the artist wasn't successful. I like works that I spot from the doorway of the gallery and make me cross the room to get a close up look. The Mona Lisa didn't do it for me--in fact I walked right by it. Not Van Gogh, I stopped in front of each picture and revisited the exhibit two more times. De Kooning brings me across the room. Kehinde Wiley, a young artist very much alive and well, brings me across the room too.

hw (hallie) farber said...

If I like an art work, that's enough. If I know the story or motivation behind it; that's icing. No intermediary necessary.

Anonymous said...

The more I know about art, the less I understand, or so it seems some days. Art for me is about making connections. The nature of these connections is continuously changing and sometimes I need to tune out all the opinions so I can hear my own thoughts.

-Don said...

Dang! Hallie said in three short sentences what I took four long paragraphs to say. And she said it better. Wow.