Monday, August 20, 2007

In the eye of the beholder

La Rosa



I was pondering the trepidation that many people have when gazing upon my paintings. This trepidation stems not from my paintings themselves, but from the eye of the beholder, the beholder's imaginary need to understand a painting. To comprehend its meaning, to get the message. There is something terribly intimidating about art to most people. Looking at art has been transformed into a learned skill fit for only a chosen few. How many of you reading this, no matter what your own background is, have felt intimidated when stepping into a museum or gallery? How many of you have felt not quite up to the task of looking at a painting or sculpture? How many of you hope that you are not asked to comment on a work of art for fear of saying the wrong thing?


I wonder at what point art becomes a language for the few instead of the language of the masses. I graduated from art school, which at first makes you think you have somehow entered that elite club of art connoisseurs (a.k.a. The Blowhard Society), and then allows you to realize that the knowledge you have gained is not a means to an end, but only a sort of talisman. A smooth rock you hold in your pocket that you can stroke as you think and ponder. In fact, a painting speaks every language there is, and has no need for a translator, an interpretation.

Some of the classic questions I've been asked about my paintings are:


"What is it?" Well, it's a painting...


"What does it mean?" What does it mean to you?


"What is it supposed to be?" (One of my favorites) It is supposed to be whatever you see...


Children are the authentic art connoisseurs. Children know right away what they like and what they don't. How everything makes them feel. I've tried mightily to nurture my children's artistic instincts, which can so easily be battered down through too much culture, to much schooling. I often ask my kids how they feel when looking at a painting, or a sunset, or at nothing at all. Their answers have always been a learning experience (for me).


Don't some things just feel like dancing?


While others feel lonely?


Or like joy... pure joy?


Or even like your mind... so cluttered that you can't think? As if you're tired?

Or like quiet solitude?

I rarely give advice in this blog. But today if you can, look around. Squint your eyes if you must, and see what you see. You may be surprised.

12 comments:

Fourier Analyst said...

I am so not artistic. I love color and enjoy some artists, but others just leave me cold and I can walk by more than half the "art" in a museum and not even turn my head. Then when we visited the Michealangelo museum in Florence, DD1 could have spent all day just looking at the paintings. When she finally got around to the statue of David, which is what we stood in line for so long to see (I thought), I did not think we would ever get her out!!
Art is truly in the eye of the beholder! Fortunately my offspring are not nearly as blind as I am!

Jenn in Holland said...

I know that when I post a comment here, I tend toward the gushing oh-my-god-you-are-amazing-jennifer type of comments. But I just can't help it, because OH MY GOD, YOU ARE AMAZING, JENNIFER.
I am going to be looking carefully all day...

anno said...

This just makes me feel alive! Thanks so much!

Greg said...

The quote, attributed to Jackson Pollack seems to fit here: "No one tears their hair out wondering about the meaning of a field of flowers."

Wonderful post.

Jen said...

You bring me such solace when I read your comments on art. This was a special thing that I shared with my Dad, who was an art historian. We loved to go to museums together and talk about what we saw.

What I have to say here is that my dad was a self-taught art historian, so he wasn't a card-carrying member of the blowhard society, and other art historians let him know that whenever they had the opportunity.

Despite this, he soldiered on, writing and publishing several books. And he just loved thinking about, looking at, and discussing art. Especially paintings. And since he died in 1992, I haven't really found anyone I can do that with.

Your blog entries like this one give me such joy. ;-)

jen said...

all of that is so beautiful.

and i think of it less like advice and more like your light shining down on all of us.

anno said...

Looking at art has been transformed into a learned skill fit for only a chosen few.

Did you ever see the scene in L.A. Story where Steve Martin offers up a rather extended monologue on a painting that turns out to be a Red Rectangle?

Your advice just to "look around" untangles all that unnecessary complication.

jennifer said...

Oh joy- glad to have given some rare good "advice"...

cathouse teri said...

I love the talisman, smooth rock correlation!

To me, are is a form of expression and communication. I know it means something, but not necessarily something concrete, to the one who created it. I like knowing what it means to them, but that doesn't mean that it can't mean something different to me. Or nothing at all. Maybe I just like how I feel when I look at it.

It's just like music. That's why I prefer lyrics without names. If there is a name, I have a hard time relating it to my own life. In fact, it kinda pisses me off. :)

cathouse teri said...

hell, I meant "to me ART.. blah blah blah"

Rebecca said...

I love this post because I have to admit that I do get intimadated by art(even though I seomtimes do some myself) and am often afraid of saying something 'foolish, uneducated, unintelligent' when confronted with it.

But you're so right - there's no need for translation - no officialy 'correct' way to view it.

another most excellent post Jennifer :) and a lovely new photo too.

Rebecca said...

oooh - I think we were visiting each other at the same time...