Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

What, after all, is art?

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I’ve been having a number of art-related discussions lately, and I’ve encountered again how often people have the idea that art is external to themselves. Let’s stick with paintings for now.

The art of the painting depends heavily on the viewer’s knowledge and understanding. The painting presents ideas visually. A lecture presents ideas in speech. Both demand that the viewer/listener have the appropriate cultural knowledge and tools to grasp what is being communicated or the communication fails.

People who view (say) a Jackson Pollack painting without understanding anything of the context and intent and cultural issues will get no more out of it than will the typical American listening to a talk given in Mandarin. The talk may be full of excellent ideas, intricate wordplay, clever allusions to classical Chinese literature, and so on, but to the American who knows nothing of the Mandarin language and Chinese history and culture, it will just be a steam of odd vocal noises. The fault there is not in the speaker, but in the lack of knowledge in the listener.

The same is true of the painting. “Beauty is in the eye of beholder” speaks directly to the beholder’s role: what the beholder actually perceives are light rays reflected from oil paint applied to canvase. The meaning, the beauty, the ideas: those the beholder constructs by combining the visual stimulus with his or her cultural knowledge and experience.

Magritte’s famous painting speaks explicitly to this issue. That is not a pipe. It is oil paint on a canvas. The “pipe” exists in the viewer’s interpretation of the light reflected from that paint. And this particular work of art can be appreciated without the depth of cultural knowledge that (say) Jackson Pollack’s work require because this is representational — but it is also art because it places a demand on the viewer’s understanding, something that decoration does not attempt. Decoration aims to please the eye, art demands some work and though (and knowledge of context and cultural history).

That being said, let me highly recommend the Martin Scorsese documentary Picasso and Braque Go to the Movies. The movie provides the context for a series of paintings and is extremely interesting.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 November 2019 at 10:51 am

Posted in Art, Movies & TV

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