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A View of Art

I went to an art gallery recently that featured an exhibition of photography from around the world. I frequent this gallery fairly often, and my heart sank sightly when this month's featured artist turned out to be a photographer. Nothing against photography, mind you. I enjoy it quite a bit. And the exhibit has some nice pictures. But I have this notion on how art should be viewed. I prefer to look at photographs in book form, or at least in the comfort of my own home, and prefer to enjoy paintings at an art gallery.

There isn't any concret reasoning to my preference of viewing habits regarding art, aside from, perhaps, ingrained life experience. For someone born in the latter-half of the twentieth-century, photography has been something perused quite often in book or magazine format. Paintings, on the other hand, seem to inhabit the cloistered world of art galleries and museums. I find I appreciate the mediums better in these environments.

Replications of paintings can and do appear in print form, of course, but it's never quite the same as seeing them in person, is it? Perhaps this is because many paintings have a texture to them that can only be fully appreciated within their actual presence. It can be a moving experience to stand (or sit) and gaze at a painting, to absorb it and allow it to speak to you. Photographs can convey a similar experience but, as I've said, I prefer that experience to be more removed.

I remember visiting the St. Louis Art Museum once, and being enthralled with a painting by Nicolas Tournier. Four people sit at a table. One of them is plucking at a Mandolin, another is drinking from a glass of wine. The third, a woman, sits looking pensive. There is a serving wench standing silently at the table. And the fourth seated person, a bearded man with expressive eyes, sits turned, looking at us. The painting moves me because of its subjects being engaged in separate pursuits, none of them seeming to acknowledge that they are there as a group. I wonder why the woman looks so on edge. And what of the staring man? Why does he look at us? When I see this painting in print, it's nice, but it isn't the same as when I witnessed it in-person.

Of course, most of what we bring to art is within ourselves, and this no doubt includes our viewing preferences. If someone can enjoy painting and photography in equal measure, no matter the format or environment, then so much the better. The most important thing is to enjoy and appreciate (not necessarily the same thing) whatever art it is we take-in.


  1. I actually agree with your feelings as far as appreciation of art, though I can enjoy photography in a gallery setting as well as in book form.

    I disagree, however, with Sister Wendy, and somewhat firmly so. Her statement, "when an artist tells us what he's doing, don't believe him," is my sticking point. Van Gogh discussed what he was doing with the painting, or what his intention was. Perhaps for him, peacefulness was indeed represented by being closed in his bedroom, shut away for a while. While he was a troubled man, I find it sort of insulting that we throw out his definition of what the painting meant in favor of what we want him to have meant by it.

    I'm reminded of something I found not too long ago on the art of writing from a similar theme.

    What the author wrote: The curtains were blue.
    What the English teacher tells you: The color of the curtains represents his feelings of sadness.
    What the author meant: The curtains were fucking blue.

    Sometimes a bedroom is just a bedroom.

  2. Thank you for commenting!

    I both agree and disagree with what you're saying.

    While it's true that some things are just meant to be rather straightforward by the artist, it's also true that if art were nothing more than that, it would be very boring, indeed.

    It's an old adage that we bring more of ourselves to artistic interpretation than we do of what's actually there. I think it's a very apt observation.

    Isn't one of the greatest aspects of art (whether it be televisual, radiophonic, painting, photography, writing, etc.) that it can affect different people in different ways? To the author you mention, they painted some blue curtains, and that was it. To the English teacher, the blue curtains meant sadness. They may have said that it represented the *author's* feelings of sadness, but what they actually meant (even if they didn't realize it) was that it represented *their* feelings of sadness. And if all art were to be viewed in such a standard way as, "the curtains were f**king blue," then what would be the point?

    Any artist worth their salt should realize that once their work is open to the public, it is, in a sense, no longer theirs. And that's great!

    It's the same way that 10 people can hear a speech by a politician, and 5 people will approve of what was said, and 5 people won't. Or 5 people will think 'X' about what was said, and 5 people will think 'Y' about it. Now, everyone heard the same words, but then they interpret it differently. The words weren't different, but the people were.

    It's the same with art. And that's what makes the experience great.

    In your scenario, I would have retorted to the author: "The curtains can represent whatever the f**k they want to whomever is viewing them. That's why it's art."

  3. Actually, what you're saying is also absolutely true. I think my issue is the way she presented the idea. She specifically said that Van Gogh didn't know what he had done, what concept he was representing with the painting--that is incorrect. If the painting elicited different feelings for her than it did for him, that's an issue of individual interpretation (which, I agree, isn't wrong at all, it's the point of the art), but your own interpretation of what is going on in the painting, or of why the curtains are blue, is just that. Your interpretation, which has no bearing on the author's own purpose.

    I hope that didn't come out as jumbled as I feel it did.

  4. I understand what you're saying, Daniel.

    My defense of art interpretation aside, one thing that has rankled me about Sister Wendy is the way she comes across sometimes. She really speaks definitively about the art she sees. Sometimes, that can be beautiful. Other times, it can be infuriating.

    Thanks again for commenting. :-)


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