In Brief — A look at art in its varied forms: paintings, photography, sculpture, architecture, serigraphy, furniture whatever. What is art? What are its limits?
The Eye of the Beholder —
Andy Warhol. Leonardo da Vinci. Pablo Picasso. Robert Rauschenberg. Shoji Hamada. Antoni Gaudi, Frida Kahlo. These are but a miniscule listing of the many people throughout the world recognized for their art.
Where there are artists, there are critics, tastemakers. Opinions on what is good or bad art are almost as numerous as there are people. Professional critics and average people see art in their own ways and for their own reasons. Here are the views of a few of the better-known critics.
Cartoonist Al Capp on abstract art: ”A product of the untalented sold by the unprincipled to the utterly bewildered.”
Journalist Ambrose Bierce defines painting as ”The art of protecting flat surfaces from the weather, and exposing them to the critic.”
Russian writer Leo Tolstoy says, ”To say that a work of art is good, but incomprehensible to the majority of men, is the same as saying of some kind of food that it is very good but that most people can’t eat it.”
The romantic poet William Wordsworth says cynically, ”Pictures deface walls more often than they decorate them.”
In my snarkier moments, I’ve been known to agree with them.
Addressing my narrow views, my artist wife says that bad art is still art. She’s less opinionated than I, but she has moderated my views and expanded my knowledge. Indeed, in keeping with my great aunt’s view that travel is an education, I’ve learned a bit about art in my walks through many of the world’s museums. They’ve opened my eyes to what has been judged to be great art… but I’m still opinionated.
A good example of my opinionation is Jean-Michel Basquiat. A protégé of Andy Warhol, best known for his depiction of Marilyn Monroe and a can of Campbell’s soup, Basquiat’s sloppy painting of a skull raised my blood pressuret into the red zone. Art can sometimes arouse passions and experimentation, but the annointment of Basquiat’s drivel is too big a bite for me to swallow. Basquiat is an example of the questionable power of tastemakers. Is he an indication of a good artist? I think not.
Another example is Robert Rauschenberg’s urinal. My blood boils every time I’ve seen that urinal being honored in a museum. I accept the fact that even the most mundane object in daily life can be artistic, but this object is beyond the pale for me. Am I to look with awe at the receptacle of my urine that’s being funnelled into a sewer? I think not.
Art has sometimes surprised me at the most unexpected moments. Until I saw Salvadore Dali’s paintings in the St. Petersburg, Florida museum, I considered him just a bizarre painter. Suddenly, I found myself struck dumb by Dali’s monumental painting of Jesus on the cross. Pure genius. He may have been a shameless self-promoter, but he was a talent par excellence.
Another such occasion came along in Guernica, Spain. Confronted by a life-sized copy of ”Guernica,” Pablo Picassos’s famous abstract painting considered to be the most powerful anti-war depiction in history, I was stunned by the raw emotion captured by Picasso. So strongly did the artist feel that he refused to allow the painting in Spain until the country became a democracy. Now that Franco is gone, the original is hanging in Madrid.
Until I visited the Amsterdam Museum, Vincent van Gogh’s paintings had been only pictures in a book. Seen as they were painted, van Gogh’s oils came alive with their true colors and textures. It was a startling and educational experience. The moral to this story is that one can’t really judge the quality of an artistic work until one sees the real McCoy. Does this apply to Basquiat? Not to me!
There are genuine paint artists not included in these few remarks. I’m an admirer of Andrew Wyeth, Georgia O’Keefe, Johannes Vermeer, Odd Nerdrum, Anders Zorn, Gustav Klimt, Carl Larsson, Egon Schiele and others too numerous to mention. You can see I prefer realism.
However, as can be seen, art covers a variety of areas. Architecture leaps readily to mind as do ceramics, photography and sculpture. Unfortunately, this blog piece is too short to permit me to express my tastes. That leads me to conclude that a Part 2 should be considered. So stick with me and share your preferences both to this part and whether a Part 2 is in order. Taste is in the eye of the beholder. You are a beholder.
The Weekly Sampler—
As a reminder, go to the Archives on the right side of the page and click on the month and year of that week’s featured Sampler. If you wish, go to the January 15, 2017, blog (“A Simple Reading Assignment”) for more thorough instructions.
If you want to read the entire piece, simply click on the box titled “Continue Reading.” When you want to read the next piece, simply swipe your cursor across the one you have been reading and you will find the next one. Do this every time you want to read the next piece.
Don’t miss the Comments and my replies. Even though the Sampler pieces are from the past, feel free to comment…or not.