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Various art musings - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Various art musings
I love art. Really. My mom used to take me up to the Albright-Knox gallery in Buffalo every couple of months, and it was one of my favorite things to do. I belong to the MFA (though I just realized, my membership lapsed at the end of last month; I'll have to renew). I don't check every new fanfic that goes up at the Quill, but I look at every new picture. I dig all sorts of art, and like a lot of different styles.

That said, despite a life of wandering around galleries and museums, I've never seriously studied art history or taken any art appreciation classes. My knowledge of the field is severely deficient, considering that it's an actual interest. I have a vague notion that baroque is fussy and detailed, and surrealism is, well, surreal. And I know I enjoy the latter, but the only name I consistently remember is Dali.

So, I thought I'd muse about stuff I don't know and wish I did.

It's really easy to make fun of abstract impressionism. I remember randomly splashing paint onto cardboard to make an "art museum" background for a play in high school, then sarcastically interpreting these masterpieces to have great social and/or emotional meaning.

But dammit, I want to know about this stuff. I can tell the difference between Mondrian and Pollock, and I can tell you that I like Mondrian (pics here) better, but I don't know what either of them meant by it. And in Pollock's case--and I'm not saying this in a snarky way, though it will sound that way--I'm not sure I could tell the difference between a deliberate painting and one of his drop-cloths stretched onto a frame. (Web museum entry on Pollock) I can read about how his work is about "free and spontaneous flow of the brush in a dynamic composition producing intricate webs of paint with rhythmic repetition that are distinctly Pollock" (cite here), but I don't see exactly how it works, what the medium of communication is. Why do those works say that, except in the crude metaphor that he's pretty much walking around on a canvas freely dropping housepaint? It's got to have some more significant meaning, an I don't get it. At all. Not even the basic theory behind it. If Jackson Pollock is good abstract impressionism and I don't understand Jackson Pollock, then how do I know what good abstract impressionism is, and how do I differentiate it from some scam artist throwing paint on a piece of cardboard and making up a sarcastic meaning?

I can't say that I always like "pretty" art. I find myself as annoyed as a serious art connosieur by pedestrian landscapes and lifeless portraits. I like landscapes and portraits a lot when they seem to be alive and moving, but your basic ho-hum, sell it to the tourists pastel leaves me cold. Not loathing, just not interested.

I also like some not-pretty art, including Picasso most of the time. (Dali's subjects aren't pretty, but his style is so beautiful that I actually think of his pictures as pretty anyway.)

But for the most part, yup--I'm in the "that's purdy" camp of art appreciation. No depth of thought, nada. And ugly portraits bother me as much as lifeless ones... no, more. I don't get the Frida Kahlo fad that's been going on lately. I look at her paintings, and I just find them ugly. I don't find anything fascinating in them, as I do with Picasso, or difficult to look away from from long, as I do with Dali. I just look at them and think, Huh. I see far better portraits every day when I check fan art updates on the Internet.

When it comes to narrative art, like novels and movies, I have no problem saying, "Okay, I know what I'm talking about because I've studied this for a long time," and if a critic says something I find silly... well, honestly, I have no problem assuming that I know at least as much and--depending on the level of silliness--dismissing the comment entirely. If a critic makes enough statements that I think are goofy, I dismiss the critic altogether. The point is, I feel competent to enforce my own judgment, because I know perfectly well that it's informed. I know what I'm looking for, what methods are commonly used to achieve effects, and what the vocabulary of the form is. I know how to evaluate a piece. I don't always agree with standard beliefs (eg, "An adaptation is meant to capture the spirit of a piece and not to be a faithful re-creation of it"), but I know what they are and have considered them in forming my own opinions, even if those opinions are contrary.

But when it comes to visual art, I'm stuck at, "Er... well, I sorta like that one and that other one is yucky." And more often than not, I can't explain my opinion or defend it. It makes me a very unhelpful reviewer for fan artists.

Feh, I guess that's enough. Do you folks know what I mean? (And does anyone have the first idea how to judge a Pollock?) I love being an opinionated bitch, but I do like to at least have the grounding to defend those opinions, even if I don't win other people over to them. Oh, and incidentally--I'd like to have the knowledge to make those opinions fair.
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sreya From: sreya Date: June 28th, 2004 09:40 am (UTC) (Link)
I used to want to understand abstract art -- really, I did. And then I took an art course with an abstract nut. It was computer art, and in our very first project, I was playing around in Adobe Illustrator. I didn't have any ideas, so I fell back on a "stars and stripes" theme. The professor wanted me to fill it in some more, make it busier. Well, obviously I wanted a decent grade, so I shrugged and drew lines in between the points of the stars. I had fun playing with it so it'd sort of make the stars look like they were on different planes, but they were just random lines.

Two days later, when we were showing our artwork, the professor started going on about the political symbolism and implications behind the lines connecting the stars. My jaw just about hit the floor, and it was all I could do to not say, "Um, no, they're just random lines to fill in the picture because you said it wasn't busy enough."

Even funnier -- when I did try to create something with a little meaning behind it, the meaning went right over the professor's head.

Come to think of it, the whole class is starting to remind me of Divination with Trelawney!
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 28th, 2004 09:51 am (UTC) (Link)

See, that's what I'm afraid of when it comes to interpreting abstract art--that it's all total BS. I figure if I understand the theory behind it, then maybe I can tell the difference between good interpretations and goofy ones like that.

But sheesh... it's one thing to impute meaning to someone who isn't right there. It's something else entirely to sit there, give instructions to do something for no reason other than the aesthetic, and then turn around and impute political meanings that you know perfectly well aren't there because you were right there when the piece was being created!

silverhill From: silverhill Date: June 28th, 2004 12:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, I completely agree with you.

I don't "get" a lot of art out there. There's an art gallery near me that I love. One time I visited and noticed among the colorful paintings a framed piece of art priced at $300. The "art" was a scribble in pencil on a piece of paper. How is that art?! I love art. But the only difference between this "art" and a child's scribbling is that the art was in a frame and highly priced.

Pollock's art (which I do like) at least has a concept. But some of the modern art I've seen just astonishes me at how non-artistic it is. At a modern art museum once, I saw a spray-painted cinder block with wires attached to it.

I like art that makes me feel happy when I look at it. Usually that means very colorful paintings. Sometimes it means something that I find interesting or fascinating. But I usually don't care much about deeper meaning.
scionofgrace From: scionofgrace Date: June 28th, 2004 02:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well, after studying art in highschool and philosophy, music history, etc in college, I can tell you with authority (more or less) that a lot of abstract art really is a load of hooey.

To me, abstract art is successful when it conveys the emotions and sort of vague thoughts the artist intended it to. Sharp angles, bright colors, and jagged lines suggest energy, smooth flowing lines and cool colors are more serene, etc. etc. Not hard. Abstract's basically good for suggesting more general ideas or for decorating a space that you don't want people to spend too much time staring at, working out details. It gives atmosphere.

Some abstract artists are more elaborate in their work, and you're supposed to be able to deduce a lot from it, but like another LJer's already said, sometimes interpretation can really get carried away!

Be proud of your simplistic approach to art! Too many people get intimidated by the fancy-pants art critics. If you like it, you like it, and that's really what matters.
leelastarsky From: leelastarsky Date: June 29th, 2004 12:05 am (UTC) (Link)
There's a classic Aussie movie from the 70's - "Stork", which kind of summed up my view of abstract art. In it the lead character (Stork) cannot believe the 'wank' being served up as 'Art' and decides that's it's the new 'shit-easy' way of making money. So he creates his own form of abstract art by vomiting onto canvas - and becomes a huge hit.

It was really having a go at the snobbishness and wanker-talk of the Art community.

I'm afraid that, for the most part, I find abstract art meaningless, and quite often disturbing. Which I'm sure the artist would say was exactly the point; that their aim was to disturb and make the viewer THINK.
Think about what though? Leaving the painting as quickly as possible? Where's the advantage in that for the artist?

I used to be completely intolerant of abstract art until I learned that it was supposed to be painting FEELINGS. With that in mind I was able to appreciate it on a new level. And when we had to actually PAINT abstract ourselves in the course I was doing, I flipped. I thought "NO WAY!" But it was surprisingly liberating to dance around to whatever music was on and splash paint however the music or mood took you. Specially for a control freak like me. I can certainly see the theraputic value now.

I think I see it largely as selfish art. Or maybe self-indulgent? Maybe both. ;~)

fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 29th, 2004 04:04 am (UTC) (Link)
Think about what though? Leaving the painting as quickly as possible? Where's the advantage in that for the artist?

Heh! Yeah, that's where I am with a lot of it.

I can totally see the therapeutic thing--it does look really fun to fling paint around. Though I think my landlady might object strenuously, I wouldn't mind having paint-flung walls in the apartment. It has to be more interesting than plain white, and it'd be really fun to pull out all my furniture and just throwing paint at the wall! Take out one's aggressions on inanimate objects is always healthy.

Maybe I just think too much, trying to make it say something other than "hungry" or whatnot. :) I have a feeling I'd just keep thinking, "And...?" But I'll give it a try. There's not much of a modern section in the MFA (it surprised me; A-K in Buffalo has a whole wing of modern art), but I should spend some time with it.
kelleypen From: kelleypen Date: June 29th, 2004 06:10 am (UTC) (Link)


I've always looked at Pollock's work as the bi-product of performance art. I saw a film of him doing a painting. That was the real art--the creative process. That said, I have no appreciation for his final product. So what. Piet Mondrian, Georges Braches, Kandinsky--them I get. Kelleypen
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