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Wednesday, 07 November 2007

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I disagree with the idea that art today is more accessable than in the past. While art has always been paid for by elites (rich people, the government, the church), it was often aimed at the masses in the past. The church commissioned art to depict the events from the bible, and the lives of the saints, to people who could not read about these things due to widespread illiteracy. Kings, emperors, and governments commissioned art to glorify the ruler and his government and military to indoctrinate the masses with loyalty to the ruler. Portraits commissioned by the wealthy for personal enjoyment were about the only type of art in the past that wasn't designed to speak to the masses.

Today art doesn't even attempt to reach ordinary people, who are looked upon as uneducated trash by elitist artists. Ironically the masses of today are far better educated and better able to appreciate art with a complex message then people in the days before universal public education. Much of what painting and sculpture did in the old days is now done by television, movies, newspapers, magazines. Photography is important in all of these modern sources of information, which are often used to push government or religious messages in much the same way that painting and sculpture once did.

Devoid of any real usefulness, artists today have lost touch with the people and create work that most find incomprehensible, offensive or just ugly. I have a degree in art and find most of what's produced today to me empty, shallow, and meaningless. Artists and critics construct elaborate explanations of the work's meaning, but one wonders how well such apologetics will stand the test of time.

"Portraits commissioned by the wealthy for personal enjoyment were about the only type of art in the past that wasn't designed to speak to the masses."

I find that an indefensible statement...

"Today art doesn't even attempt to reach ordinary people, who are looked upon as uneducated trash by elitist artists."

...And that a *totally* indefensible one. Support this view with specifics and I might entertain it. As a blanket statement it's absurd and offensive.

Are physicists "elitists" who "look down upon ordinary people as uneducated trash" because they don't understand physics? Mathematicians, astronomers, historians, any expert of ANY sort? So why would you make such an absurd claim about artists? Name half a dozen artists who meet your criteria and show me where and how they've demonstrated it. (Uptown art gallery personnel don't qualify.)

It's your attitude towards artists (in these statements, at least) that is insufferable and derogatory. I wonder if you actually know any artists.

Mike J.

I find this interesting. In my reply to the earlier post, I mentioned that my wife calls herself a painter and not an artist. I hate to put words in her mouth but I believe that what she is getting at is 1) that she makes paintings and hopes that they will end up being art and 2) I know that she is mightily put off by the pretentiousness of elitist artspeak so considers self-declaration a little uppity.

But picking up on what you said Mike, I have not found that it's the artists who use the over-the-top jargon that puts many people off; artists are usually pretty down to earth, but rather it's the "uptown galley personnel" who have the patois down pat. But if you stop and realize that it is just marketing, you'll see it a different light. Some buyers respond to that talk, and the idea is to get them to buy. Chris, don't be insulted by the talk.

My wife worked for a time in admin at a major national gallery and came to hate almost everyone who worked there, so her experience is skewed. A lot of those folks were entrenched "elitists" who were more than a little condescending at times. And the tendency does exist (with some people) to ignore you, or worse, if you didn't go the right schools. Unfortunately there are elitists who treat the unwashed rather badly, but not just in the arts. I encountered them in physics departments, software development companies, lots of them in financial services companies, but luckily they are in the minority although they leave a bad lingering taste.

I agree that Chris overstated the case he was trying to make, but he may have had some bad experiences. It happens.

After all that however, some of my questions remain unanswered. In the modern art section of the National Gallery here in Ottawa, there is a painting about 3 foot by 4 foot that is completely yellow with a black border (or black with yellow border; it's been a while). It is the work of someone famous in his field, except I can't remember his name. I am not being facetious, I am lousy with names. Is it considered art because he did it and so it must be art? I accept that if I had painted a yellow rectangle that it would not be art; but why is it if he does? I have asked the question at other times, and have never received a cogent answer. Why is just looking at a yellow rectangle not enough in itself? Why should I need to know who painted it to appreciate its value? I have trouble accepting that concept.

A couple of thank you's are deserved here.

First, thank you Thiago for "taking the risk" in sharing your reasons on why you "never really got involved with art in the past". I think many of us struggle with similar feelings without perhaps the ability to put them into words quite as well as you have here.

Second, and speaking of doing a good job of putting things into words, thank you Adam for taking the time to type up your incredibly thoughtful reply. I don't think I've ever seen such an "accessible" (to use the word of the day) explanation on the value of art history, and ultimately *context* when experiencing art. I also appreciate how you don't see an art appreciation experience that has context to be superior to a purely subjective without context.

Brad

First off, I'm surprised to hear Adam is a lawyer as his post was so short and concise :)

I do have to take issue with Chris' position that art is less accessible than in the past. On the contrary. While pieces of highly prized art may be beyond the reach of mere mortals, the Internet has opened up a plethora of outlets both for viewing and displaying artwork. Almost every day I come upon a photographer whose work would, in pre-Internet days, be inaccessible to me. As well, every day I have visitors my own site that would otherwise be oblivious to my work. Indeed, these may be the best days in history for the sharing and access of artwork.

As was pointed out, viewing on the screen is not the same as being in the presence of the original work. I cannot argue that. However, the shear volume of new work I can see everyday more than makes up for it.

I'm happy.

Mike,

Was a personal insult like your "I wonder if you actually know any artists" really needed? My post was respectful, I expect the same.

I have a BFA from Indiana University, where I met many professional artists who taught there as well as my fellow students. I later taught at the Indianapolis Art Center and later lived for two years in Santa Fe, the country's third largest art market. My work has been in over thirty exhibits over the past decade. Before accusing someone of "Not knowing any artists" you might consider reading the person's website to see what his experience in the art world is.

A great many of the painters and sculptors I have met complain that they cannot sell their work or that no one appreciates it. Instead of considering that there might be a possibility that they are not creating work anyone wants to see, they blame the audience and call them names. Consider television, another form of art, which is largely appreciated by 'ordinary people'. New shows are introduced every year. Some are successful and air for years; others fail. The TV networks don't call their viewers "Uncultured, uneducated, etc" when a show gets bad ratings. They accept that they failed, and they produce something else, hopefully better. Too many artists feel they're 'owed' a paying audience no matter what they produce, and that's simply not so. If that's being "Hostile to the arts", then so be it. This Fine Art Photographer and Graphic Designer is hostile to the arts.

And, no, I will not name any names. Many of these people are people I consider to be friends. I disagree with them in many ways about art, but they're still friends whom I will not publicly embarass.

Mike, I too feel that many of the current "artists" are elite snobs, who present stuff that is called "art", and when you say you do not like it, the Elites descend upon you and verbally rip you to shreds. Art is rather subjective in that IMO each person responds to a piece of art in accordance to their own view of the art. I happen to like/appreciate Ansel Adams, John Sexton, etc. I loathe Diane Arbus, and those who clone themselves as the new Diane Arbus. BUT, others like her work. The Original Poster said a great deal of what I feel, however I will agree that most people are not educated into what "art" is, they just know what they like.

Do I like modernists, postmodernists, post-post-post modernists, cubists, Dadaists, Picasso, etc? No, I think its cr@p. Do I like the great realists or artists like Cezanne, etc, Yep. My art major buddy loves the ones I hate. I guess what I am put off by are not the artists, but the Art Critics, who ooze on about things and if you disagree with them, or just go "HUH?" over their drivel, you are obviously incapable of understanding great art, and are therefore a Phillestine.

My true scorn is reserved for Art Critics and the like, not the Artists. And we have had this discussion before. The original article was very well written, and thought provoking.

BTW, keep up the good work, love the site.

"Before accusing someone of 'Not knowing any artists' you might consider reading the person's website to see what his experience in the art world is."

You didn't say "unsuccessful artists are bitter because they feel they're owed a living." What you said was "ordinary people...are looked upon as uneducated trash by elitist artists." Sorry, but that's simply rank bigotry any way you cut it, Chris. It's indefensible no matter how you came to it and no matter if you ought to know better.

Mike

P.S. I should add to one and all that Chris Crawford is definitely one of the good guys in my opinion, current difference of opinion notwithstanding.

I'm seeing what I think of as a cult of amateurism that disdains experience and technique as unnecessary, and regards art as 'good' if it's 'genuine'. Witness American Idol and YouTube. I encounter many young artists who are blithely unaware and/or uncaring about how hard you have to work to get good enough for anyone to give a damn about your work. They seem to feel they haven't been lucky enough, or received enough exposure - as if a good PR person can make an audience believe you're good. What they can't do is look inward and recognize what they can't do.

Dear Folks,

So many aspects of communication are being touched upon in these threads. These disconnected thoughts come to me, in no special order:

1) Art is not a popularity contest, unless one believes all Art must speak to the most common denominator on a 1A-introductory level. If true, then progress and true invention in art would be as impossible as in any other discipline of the intellect whose communications were frozen at the most basic level. Museums should collect and display works that speak valuably, no matter what the level of discourse; that's fundamental to their reason for existence. Otherwise, they are just sideshows. (And, as was pointed out, museums that fail to explain to the viewer what they're viewing are failing their duties most egregiously).

2) I don't like most classical music. I don't like opera at all; I just don't get it. I find ballet completely incomprehensible. These forms, to various degrees, do not speak to me at all without substantial explanatory material. I do not think this means they fail as art. For that matter, only a small minority of people in any society in the world like and appreciate these three genres. Does that really mean that these are pointless exercises in sterile, uninformative elitism and not art-as-it-should-be?

3) Some art does require the background equivalent of 20 pages of explanatory text. Some art makes statements that are not trivially or superficially understandable. SO? What medium of communication that strives for more than the trivial doesn't do that?! The real value of durable "language" to good ol' homo sap is that it lets one build upon previous discovery and discourse without reinventing (or, at least, reiterating) the wheel.

4) Artists (including moi) are understandably ill-equipped to explain their works. If you ask me to explain the import of a photograph of mine, I have to (a) actually understand deeply on a fully consciously level what it is I've said in the work and (b) translate that into an entirely different, only semi-compatible-and-not-fully-congruent mode of communication. This is not even close to easy. It is no more reasonable for artists to be expected to be able to explain their own work than it is for the artists to expect lay public to understand and appreciate nontrivial artistic statements.

5) Who it is who makes an artistic statement *does* matter. Art carries no objective gravitas. The weight we assign to argument and rhetoric always depends upon the expertise and validity we attribute to the speaker. If I say "We must get out of Iraq, now" you will assign it entirely different importance than if the President of the United States says it. In the same way, if I (or Robert) paint a black and yellow rectangle it is not the same as the artist in the Ottawa gallery doing it. Unless one feels that art carries intrinsic and objective merit, the same work created by two different people does not have the same import nor convey the same message.

pax / Ctein

This is a great discussion! I'll make just 2 points.

1. For those who might admire black squares as art :-), and everyone else, I highly recommend a short story by André Maurois, Naissance d‘un Maître. Unfortunately, I don't know if there is an English translation, so I'll leave it at that; the original can be found e.g. here:
http://tinyurl.com/ytt5ru
It really explains a lot about how great artists (and their admirers) are born, as the title says. And yes, it mentions a black square (quite possibly it's *the* Black Square) :-)

2. Undeniably, explanations about a piece of art and knowing the language in which it is expressed can be important. It's especially easy to see from literature - if you don't know the language, you cannot understand and appreciate anything at all.

Igor

Hmm, there's quite a strong wind here! Well I'm certainly not going to spit into it. But maybe I'll whistle just a bit into it, even if it's little more than writing on a beach at low tide.

1. Accessibility of art: The fact is that art, as a bulk commodity, has never been so accessible to the general public as it is today. There are nearly twice the number of art museums in the U.S. today versus 1960. We've experienced a veritable explosion of new and expanded museums. Of course the Internet provides a very fertile medium for art education and exploration that effectively magnifies public access to art. Growing up in the middle of South Dakota is no longer an excuse for being completely ignorant of any art form.

As noted earlier, self-guided audio tour systems are also becoming standard features at most major museums. These represent terrific steps foward in providing visitors with a nice dollop of additional info on works.

But there is a caveat to this accessiblity thing. We're in the midst (probably the tail end) of one of the biggest booms in art auctions in history. Even modest pieces have been fetching double and triple-digit appreciations in the auction market in short times. As I write this, in fact, Sotheby's has just finished one of the largest art auction in its history (to disappointing sales, btw). What's the point? Just this. Once you've paid tens of millions for a painting ) it's highly unlikely that the work will see the outside world again. Very few museums have exhibiion budgets to support the insurance and handling to show such a piece even if the owner is willing to let it travel. Therefore, while art as a whole is more publicly accessible many of the pieces most celebrated culturally and historically are forever locked away from the public eye, increasingly in Russian and Chinese private collections.

2. I strongly disagree with Chris' remark, "...the masses of today are far better educated and better able to appreciate art with a complex message then people in the days before universal public education.". Baloney. I spend a great deal of time at one of America's most prominent art museums, at all times of day and days of the week. I've spent a lot of time of watching, and speaking with, museum visitors. I've no idea what "universal public education" is but I can say that people, and particularly younger people, are far less prepared to appreciate art than in decades past. I believe there are two reasons. First, art education is being greatly reduced or completely exorcised from many schools due to constricting budgets and convulsive emphasis on test score performance (thanks to No Child Left Behind madness). Second, appreciation of nearl all art forms requires devotion of concentration and time. We're becoming a society that simply has little patience for any such effort that doesn't repay us in some thrill. I see scores of people blow past some the world's greatest impressionist paintings faster than they'd pass a shopping mall store window. (The museum claims that adult visitors spend an average of just over 3 seconds looking at its greatest pieces.)

3. Seth hit a bulls-eye with his critical remarks regarding "...a cult of amateurism that disdains experience and technique as unnecessary, and regards art as 'good' if it's 'genuine'.". My occasional contact with art students these days leaves me with a similar opinion. There seems to be a very prevalent sense of entitlement to fame and recognition with relatively little countervailing sense of the value of concept or technique. Conversations with curators and gallery owners confirm this observation. Many attribute this to children being raised in loser-less educational environments where everyone's treated like a winner. The real world lands heavy and hard.

I don't mean for my comments to inflame. I offer them simply to build-out whatever is being built (or perhaps piled) here.

Any piece of art, whether music, theatre, painting, sculpture or whatever, is attempting to communicate something. What makes a work of art truly great, in my view, is that the message is profound and the work of art communicates on many levels. A truly great artwork reveals something more of itself every time it is experienced and rewards careful study.

Today, however, we are conditioned to making snap judgements. We therefore do not care to spend time with a work of art if it is not willing to be the one to open the dialogue - we expect artists to shout what they have to say and do it in short soundbites. We have simply become too lazy to spend time decoding what the artist is trying to tell us.

Is it any wonder, then, that some artists simply do not bother and just create vacuous conceptual art where the message is banal and the execution slipshod? Is it being elitist of an artist to expect an audience to meet them halfway?

The alternative is art galleries which are practically indistinguishable from branches of Athena.

Being an engineer and a software one at that, not 'arty' at all, I love the debate on what is art, especially as it relates to photography. I very rarely see photography I consider art. Currently I consider it art when it speaks loudly to me. For example an Arbus photo will usually speak to me loudly, although I don't really 'like' them. On the other hand both a Salgado or a Burtinsky speak and appeal to me.

Photography bothers me because it seems to be very easy to assume what you are reading in an image was a deliberate message. I am often surprised at what some people will assert about photos so confidently.

I have just survived San Francisco's October Open Studios 'festival', which was fascinating. Predominently paintings, it left me with the feeling that the abstract is their way of disguising whether or not you have a clear well executed message.

Arrogance is usually a sign of insecurity, and I'm pretty sure many in the art world sense how fragile their contribution really is.

The engineer in me does enjoy the art and creativity in a beautiful engineering solution too. They don't generally say much about the human condition though.

When I encounter art intended to provoke me into considering
the concepts involved, I think that locality of context often
plays a large role in forming the barrier between my immediate
perception and proper appreciation of those concepts.
On many occasions I have encountered works of art that seems
to me to be attempting to communicate concepts that are strongly
intertwined with the local context within which the work was
created. Since I don't have the capacity to be omniscient and
know every local context, and I usually have only the work of
art itself help me decide whether to make the effort to learn
what I need to know in order to properly appreciate the concepts
it wants me to consider and the manner in which it's engendering
my consideration, I'm often left with kind of a mental shrug and
a small hope that I'm not one of the people with whom the artist
was intending to communicate. Sometimes the eloquence of the
communication will provoke me to want to understand the message.
When I think of this eloquence of communication in art, the word
that comes to mind is "beauty," and I'm sometimes saddened by how
much I hear it spoken of poorly when it seems to me that it
preforms such a valuable service.

So, the solution for all artists is to pander to the lowest common denominator... Britney Spears sells a lot of records, by that standard she must be great.

Wow, such verbiage.

It seems Thiago has the right approach to appreciating art. It's ridiculous to think that some "works of art" require a Masters degree in Fine Art to appreciate. If so, the "art" has absolutely failed. Instead of art, we have an intellectual exercise, but what else can one expect from academia but intellectual exercise.

No, you appreciate art from the gut, and the heart, and to the least degree, the mind.

For me the thing with post war art, is that it expends too much of its energy and creativity talking about itself to itself. Like a person who is too self absorbed, ultimately things become a little dull.

If you want to connect with people, you have to communicate something worthwhile and unfortunately for me contemporary traditional art (painting, sculpture, instalations etc) just doesn't, whereas other art forms such as literature and music adapted and stayed relevant.

Damn...this is such an interesting web site!

(This is simply my opinion and I don't want to offend people that disagree with me):

There's a big misunderstanding about the definition (definitions) of art. People disagree because when they say or write the word 'art' they are talking about different things. For me, art and 'entertainment' (or a sort of industry of entertainment) are very different things. People tend to assume that all the things they like, or that nicely appeal to their senses, are forms of art. A tasteful meal should then be considered a work of art? A nice and well painted (or photographed) landscape is in every case a work of art? The majority of pop music and commercial cinema have anything to do with art? You may call me elitist but I, personally, think that art is more than a polite and gentle way of communication affiliated in genres (painting, sculpture, architecture, etc.) The 'artistic attitude' is far more complex then the 'charming' object that reflects the perfection of a technique (and far more complex for me to be able to express it in English). I don't think art should have an 'explanation', verbally speaking, but there's one thing for sure - the work of art must be conceptual in the way it becomes as form, not in the sense of the genre 'conceptual art' that always seems to have a verbal explanation 'a priori', but in the sense that it must be expression of a peculiar and 'agitated' thought that, in it self, is the proposition of a 'real world' parallel to reality. This 'real world' is a rich combination of history (of art and personal history of the artist) idiosyncrasy, taste (or lack of), technique, originality, etc., etc. That's why the labor of the artist is so complex and sometimes frustrating - being efficient as an artist is not enough.

I'd just like to point out in passing that you can't judge "artists" based on "art students." "Academe" (schools) have never been a terribly good source of artists, and that hasn't changed. The attitudes of art students may be entitled and dismissive, but in considering "artists" as a class and making pronouncements about them I'd rather look at mid-career people who have been working quietly for a decade or two and are accomplishing their work organically, by small increments of producing and showing and selling.

Mike J.

What turned me off "Art" or as I call it "Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrtttttttttttt", was being in the Smithsonian Galleries in the Modern Art area and seeing a yellow steel rectangle, with a single red line through it, and (what I assumed was) a learned art critic or professor gassing on about the "form", "grace" "innate beauty", "defining definition of the transformational meme". I looked at my Art buddy, and he told me: "Don't say it", but I was thinking, if thats all it takes to make lots of bucks is to paint a metal square yellow, put a red line on it, and have a pretentious Art critic ooze over it, I am in the wrong line of work. 99.9% of Abstract or Modern (Post Modern or whatever the heck else they are calling it today) leaves me cold, because what is the meaning? What is the point? My kids do better art than some I have seen in museums where "learned critics" ooze greatly over them. But then again, I am a Philestine it seems. I like art that looks like something. Or in the case of classical music, sounds like something other than random notes.

"Photography bothers me because it seems to be very easy to assume what you are reading in an image was a deliberate message. I am often surprised at what some people will assert about photos so confidently."

I once read or heard (in an interview) the novelist Margaret Atwood respond to a question about something (symbolism, metaphor, can't remember what) that someone had interpreted in one of her novels. Her response was that although she hadn't consciously thought of it that way, she was happy to take the credit for it.

"No, you appreciate art from the gut, and the heart, and to the least degree, the mind."

No, YOU appreciate art from the gut, and the heart, and to the least degree, the mind.

(g)

Mike J.

"My kids do better art than some I have seen in museums where "learned critics" ooze greatly over them. But then again, I am a Philestine it seems."

No you aren't--not if you can truly appreciate your kids' artwork as much as you appreciate work in museums. If that's really the case then you have a great attitude and you are the furthest thing from a Philistine. (I'm not kidding.)

Mike J.

"No, YOU appreciate art from the gut, and the heart, and to the least degree, the mind."

No, it has to be universal Mike, not just me. As soon as you intellectualize a work of art, it ceases to be. Paradoxically, the students and professors of art are probably the least likely to "understand" a work of art, instead, substituting the illusion of understanding through verbiage.

I think what we're losing sight of here is that for me, and I assume others, the process is what's important, not the end product. I'd like my work to be well received, but it's much less important to me than how well I think I did accomplishing what I set out to do. Recognition, if it comes, comes and goes, and audiences are fickle. I work my ass off to make something as good as I'm capable of, and each piece I work on is the most important thing I've ever done. Beyond that I can't control people's reactions. I don't actually care much what anyone thinks.

I sometimes wonder these days, which comes first. The image, or the message. In the case of photography, is the photographer thinking deep thoughts while taking the images and thus imbuing them with some deeper meaning, or is that usually recognised after the fact ?

I recently spent a couple of weeks working on a small photo project of my wife. my motivation was simple and simplistic. I wanted to create some portraits and spend some time collaborating with someone I love. Sure I wanted to make them to the best of my ability and interesting locations, with interesting light and so on, but the simple aim was to take pictures of my wife. The results and some discussion can be found here.

http://gordonmcgregor.blogspot.com/2007/10/amanda-project.html

A few days ago I happened across the latest exhibit by Eric Weeks, via Andrew Hetherington's blog. Eric's show World Was in the Face of the Beloved is ostensibly the same subject as in my project: his wife.

http://www.whatsthejackanory.com/2007/10/things-to-do-tonight-new-york-eric.html

http://www.ericweeksphoto.com/

He describes his project as
"
This work is about a character who is becoming one within the given landscape. She is someone who is okay with who they are and where they are in the world, while at the same time, she questions her place in the universe. She is my protagonist. Although I do not directly intend to expound on the tenets of Zen Buddhism, there is certainly the suggestion of that kind of spiritual tranquility in the photographs. I want my photographs to offer a respite from all the courser conundrums of humanity.

In short, I want these photographs to speak about ideas of beauty: the beauty of this woman in these attractive clothes; the beauty of the landscape and the figure relating to that space; and also about the beauty of analogue photography. Often, these photographs are playful, fun and peaceful.

The greatest misconception would be that these photographs are traditional “portraits” of my wife, or images that explore our emotional relationship. There are aspects of portraiture in the work, as well as self-portraiture and fictional narrative. I want to blur the line between all of these types of imagery.

My previous work has involved contemplation and exploration into the nature of human relationships while making narrative photographs. In past series I have examined the connection to family, looked at the bond between couples, addressed ideas of masculinity in a portrait series of men, and more recently combined photographs of seemingly disparate subjects to suggest metaphysical and sexual interactions. The images of my wife continue this investigation."

What struck me about all this was - was this in his mind and was it his motivation while out and about shooting these pictures of his wife ? Putting to one side the technical issues and aesthetic concerns about if his pictures are 'better' than mine - does the additional information inform or change the view of the images ? If the descriptions were switched, does the context change ?

Are these descriptions and insights part of the art, or somehow adjuncts ?

I have to agree that art is best appreciated "from the gut." I have no problem with there being an intellectual level to the way a work communicates, but if you can't "feel" it, what's the point? Of course the same goes for music. For me even the most cerebral jazz can have an underlying emotional impact that, if missing, causes the work to fail miserably. Purely intellectual art bores me very quickly, but when I can connect at a level that goes beyond the intellect (and I have no viable explanation for that effect ... which actually stands to reason), then I have encountered a great work of art.
I think we've become a little too attuned to intellectual everything, and our "soul" is being left behind. I want to believe that art is one way we can revive that vital communicative organ before it becomes vestigial.

to sum it up: art is what you make it.

I'm amazed at the stir that my initial post has caused, and honored by having Mike picking it up as a worthy discussion.

I think I ought to expand a little on what I've said before, and relate it to what has been discussed so far.

From all that have been said, I agree the most with this phrase:

"I have to agree that art is best appreciated 'from the gut.' I have no problem with there being an intellectual level to the way a work communicates, but if you can't 'feel' it, what's the point?"

For me that's the common thread in art: Being something completely materialistic and sometimes common or banal when reduced to its essence, but still capable in some 'arcane' (or actually, artistic) way to reach out and provoke a feeling or reaction, or to convey a message.

This 'sensational' reaction was what I really meant about liking. When I see a photo of Salgado of a starving child hanging from a scale, I don't like it in the sense of getting pleasure from the sight, but I feel a strong visual and emotional reaction, and thus I 'like' it as an image.

Also, based on this art definition (of mine) is that I affirmed that art will always be subjective. The responses that the piece generates on a given person is as much, if not more, a product of the person's experience, belief and life history than they are the artist's. And in that case, I think the most successful artists are the ones capable of reaching into parts of the "inner-self" or "subconscious" that are common to most people, or at least to a specific subset of people.

I do agree that knowledge about the history and motivations behind a piece of art or style might give you a different and special appreciation, but it doesn't necessarily translates into a 'gut' feeling. Using the sex analogy again, I might come to understand, accept and be completely comfortable with homosexuality if I take the time to understand why it comes to be, but that doesn't mean that I'll start to be attracted to people of the same sex.

The same can be said on the technical aspect, and in this case most photographers will agree that technical perfection by itself does not create art.

And again, I agree that visual arts should be at least to a certain point capable of generating responses/passing messages without relying heavily on context.

Finally, being not "from the art medium", I am very sympathetic with other people that are sometimes put off because of the elitism and empty talk present in some "art circles". As much as stereotypes are unfair generalizations, they always come to be for a reason.

That was I was referring to when commenting on attitudes like "you don't like because you're uneducated" or "if I don't 'get it, I must be uneducated". If art appreciation must be guided solely by my knowledge of a set of rules imposed by some obscure group of "experts", I think I'll pass it.

This kind of reaction for me is just an intellectualized version of the 'brand fanboyism' that is critiqued by all. People don't really appreciate a piece of art, they just feel they have to act as such because the social and cultural rules of their medium demand so, and they feel the need to be accepted within that group. And then they rationalize the feeling by recurring to the rules and education as excuses.

Once again, thanks Mike and all the participants for contributing to such a fruitful discussion. I came out of it with some new opinions and points of view, and I hope the same happened to you all. I apologize for any lack of clarity in my comments, but English is not my first language.

Player said:
"As soon as you intellectualize a work of art, it ceases to be."

I'm amused by this hardline approach to appreciation of art, especially since it "has to be universal." Perhaps I'll take a trip to a gallery tomorrow, "intellectualize" a work of art and see if it disappears.

No you aren't--not if you can truly appreciate your kids' artwork as much as you appreciate work in museums. If that's really the case then you have a great attitude and you are the furthest thing from a Philistine. (I'm not kidding.)

Mike J.

You are right, I love my kids work, but it speaks to me, especially the little ones my six year old makes for me all the time. Art should stir the soul, like a Bach Fugue, a Beethoven Symphony, Mozart's 40th Symphony, etc.

One need not enter a museum or gallery (or other place where art is displayed) to aproach or consider art. In fact you don't even need to leave home or even the chair your sitting in while clicking the mouse to read or add a comment on TOP.

Take just an extra monemt tomorrow or before bed while brushing your teeth and have a nice long consideration of that toothrush your using.

What about those shoes you put on or the watch you may use to keep time?

You might also want to read this:
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/08/fashion/08ART.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

Excellent couple days here on TOP everyone. I very much enjoyed it.

Hey Chris,

"Today art doesn't even attempt to reach ordinary people, who are looked upon as uneducated trash by elitist artists."

I'm no Art historian..........I bailed on school but have read and studied a bit.

I have to think that your comment is anything but the truth. I know plenty of "artists" who fully agree with you, but most of them seem to also claim it's never been harder to be a voice in or a part of the political circles or decision making.

Most all of these conversations stem from chatting at the bar. Most of these people hardly ever participate in their chosen medium anymore because the "system" has failed them. They often claim our vacuous culture of greed, consumption and corporate welfare have stiffled creativity and only favors the wealthy and elite.

Most of these people like I did, grew up in very if not somewhat privileged homes. What's odd is that most of the "working" artists that I know who have pursued their vision and craft with energy and drive did not.

Just me thinking.

Thanks for the conversation

Thiago,

Thanks for sparking all of this. I hope you’ll excuse another long-winded response.

You referred to attitudes such as “you don't like it because you’re uneducated” or “if I don't get it, I must be uneducated”. Without any hard evidence, I would bet that only one of those comments or feelings is truly widespread, namely the latter. Because a lot of contemporary art is not superficially accessible, people who encounter a work of art that they don't know much about don’t know how to respond. Like I said in my original response, this is because viewers often don’t have any information that can serve as a starting point. People tend to feel nervous and insecure when they don’t know how to act or what to think in a given situation, particularly when it comes to things like art and museums. A very visceral fear starts to develop that often manifests itself as someone thinking, “If I don’t get it, I must be uneducated.” This is often accompanied or followed by a defensive reflex that says, “Actually, I DO understand. It’s crap. The emperor has no clothes on and I’m the only one to realize it.” I have these fears and urges constantly when I’m in museums or galleries. But I think that if you talk to art historians, artists or people who work in museums, you will actually find that they aren’t judgmental at all. They are often extremely helpful and eager to talk to others about art, and you certainly won’t be the first person they have spoken to who thought a given work of art was crap. Give them a chance. Then go to the museum bookshop and buy a book about the artist or art movement (note: particularly if you are willing to buy a used copy, you can often get art books far cheaper online). Then read it.

Will you like that artwork or the artist when you’re done? Probably not. You also may not think that the artist achieved what s/he was trying to achieve. You may even think that what the artist (or art movement) was trying to achieve was a load of worthless bunk. But I guarantee that even just reading that one book will help you see other works of contemporary art differently. You will at least be familiar with the process of viewing and learning about contemporary art. You may even have picked up a few terms that you can throw around at cocktail parties… ;-) And the next time you’re in that museum and you see someone nervously standing in front of the artwork, throwing furtive glances around the room to try to assess the reactions of others, then just as they gather a lungful of air before shouting “The Emperor’s naked!”, you can quietly sidle up to them and say, “You know what? I think it’s crap, too. But I read this book and here is what the artist was TRYING to accomplish…”

You also wrote, “If art appreciation must be guided solely by my knowledge of a set of rules imposed by some obscure group of “experts”, I think I’ll pass it.” Nothing is further from the truth. Almost by definition, there are no rules in art and there certainly aren’t any rules in art appreciation, as the posts over the past few days have proven. And while there are “experts”, people who know a lot about a given artist or period, they are NOT the arbiters of taste. Even if you take the time to view every piece of work created by a given artist, read every book about him or her and attended 1,000 lectures on that artist, nobody is going to claim that you have to like that artist. What you like, what provokes an emotional reaction in you, and which theories you consider sound and worthwhile, are all entirely up to you. In this respect, you are as much an expert as anyone else.

Finally, I’d just like to point out that the so-called experts are not obscure or aliens from another planet. They are regular people who happened to develop an interest in this stuff at some point (just as you presumably delivered an interest in photography that, to some people, appears abnormal). They are generally very down to earth. Does this mean that there aren’t any self-professed experts who are intellectual snobs and who like to use specialized terminology and refer to artists and critics you’ve never heard of to cover their insecurity? Of course not. But these people (a) are far more common in Hollywood movies than in real life and (b) don’t tend to get very far. One of the common characteristics of people who are leading experts in any field is their ability to break down difficult concepts and explain them in a way that is accessible. The more a person blusters, the more their house of cards is likely to fall down.

On that note, I’ll stop here. ;-)

Best,
Adam

Really, you have the work of art, and everything swirling around that work of art, like the "art experts," perhaps literature produced by the artist, curators, textbooks on art history, and all of it is just a distraction. Really, all you have is the work of art, and the perceiver of that work of art. Rather than filling our heads with more literary clutter, information, so-called education, the enjoyer of art needs to do exactly opposite of what you suggest, namely, turn off the grinding and chattering drivel of the mind, and JUST LOOK, and FEEL, and truly understand any work of art.

We as human beings are completely equipped, all of us, to understand any work of art, without any training, or preparation.

We just need to LOOK, FEEL, and RESPOND, and most importantly, trust our own responses, unequivocally.

Hey Adam,

Yet another well reasoned and articulate response. I had meant to add something of similar language in my response.

Finally, I’d just like to point out that the so-called experts are not obscure or aliens from another planet. They are regular people who happened to develop an interest in this stuff at some point (just as you presumably delivered an interest in photography that, to some people, appears abnormal). They are generally very down to earth. Does this mean that there aren’t any self-professed experts who are intellectual snobs and who like to use specialized terminology and refer to artists and critics you’ve never heard of to cover their insecurity? Of course not. But these people (a) are far more common in Hollywood movies than in real life and (b) don’t tend to get very far. One of the common characteristics of people who are leading experts in any field is their ability to break down difficult concepts and explain them in a way that is accessible. The more a person blusters, the more their house of cards is likely to fall down.

Well said mister.

Player:

"Really, all you have is the work of art, and the perceiver of that work of art."

Some days I agree with this. (Maybe even most)

And this:

"Rather than filling our heads with more literary clutter, information, so-called education, the enjoyer of art needs to do exactly opposite of what you suggest, namely, turn off the grinding and chattering drivel of the mind, and JUST LOOK, and FEEL, and truly understand any work of art.

"We as human beings are completely equipped, all of us, to understand any work of art, without any training, or preparation.

"We just need to LOOK, FEEL, and RESPOND, and most importantly, trust our own responses, unequivocally."

I wonder if we are actually all equipped to react and respond more than "understand"?

I don't think we need to understand every given work of art either, but I also don't agree with the premise that it's all on the surface. Do we really all understand or "get it" just because we turn inward and chew on it?

Maybe.

About Gordon McGregor's and Eric Weeks' portraits:

Apart from Eric Weeks' quite convoluted definitions of his work, (I admit that it is very difficult explain our inner feelings, or to explain a creative process), I think that these two series of portraits gave, at least to me, a clue about how slight and at the same time so gigantic the difference between photographers' works.

What (IMHO) I saw in Gordon's work was technically well done portraits of a beautiful woman, photos taken with love and appreciation, and with and obvious strong liasion between photographer and subject. Well done, Gordon, and cherish this precious relationship that exudes happiness!

But Mr. Weeks' work (IMHO,again), is art.

These examples illustrated to me very clearly my own personal struggle to try to cross this so thin, and at the same time almost infinite barrier.

It isn't easy; it hurts, it is near the impossible, but it is the energy what takes us forward, trying and trying.

E.L.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Player,

So Masaccio's landscapes are not worthy of greater admiration than those of Bob Ross (no offense to Bob Ross intended)? We should present their paintings side by side, with no accompanying information, and whichever we like better is the superior artwork?

What about James Joyce's "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man"? Is it no longer art if I am unable to pick it up and understand it straight off the bat? Is it rubbish if I don't feel emotion welling up within me when I first read, "Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo...."?

You can read Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and enjoy a nice little story about a pair of doomed teenage lovers. They fall in love, they die, it's tragic, there's your emotion for you. Shakespeare isn't remembered today for his plots, nor is he remembered for writing tear-jerkers that get audiences sobbing. His plots weren't original, they are age-old stories that have been told over and over again. Shakespeare has lived on because he INVENTED a fair number of the words in the English language. His language frequently follows rhythmic patterns. He builds on, and includes references to, the foundational literature of Europe and much of the Western World. You could probably spend a lifetime analyzing just a few of his plays and continue to find elements that are rewarding. But believe me, the sadness of the plot will wear off long before the fascination with his mind and creativity.

What separates us from animals are not our emotions (animals can experience pleasure, longing, depression and fear), but our intellect. I am not arguing that art does or should only speak to our intellect. Naturally we have a strong emotional response to much of art. And that may be enough to understand a lot of the art that is out there. But there is art that addresses not only our emotions, but also our intellect. And unless you understand the intellectual aspect of some art, you may not have an emotional response to it. This doesn't mean that you necessarily WILL have an emotional response to art just because you understand the concepts behind it, just that it may be a prerequisite for the desired effect in some cases (other than feelings of anger, disgust, rejection and insecurity, which people seem to be able to experience without understanding anything at all - Note: this parenthetical is not directed at Player or anyone else in particular). It should also be noted that much of the art that people respond to most emotionally has such a strong impact precisely BECAUSE the artists have taken the time to consider intellectual questions in creating that art (consider Shakespeare or the David example in my original post). Considering these questions has helped drive art forward. We wouldn't have any progress if everyone just said, "Oh well, it's all subjective and emotional anyway. No point in discussing it or thinking about it."

It's not that I don't have sympathy for the subjective/emotional approach to appreciating art, and I certainly don't want to imply that that is the wrong way to go about it. As I've mentioned several times, that is still how I approach most of the art I encounter. But it is hopelessly simplistic to assert that that is the ONLY way to appreciate art, and that anyone who dares to consider the conceptual side of art is either (a) wasting his or her time, or (b) a charlatan.

You also wrote that "We as human beings are completely equipped, all of us, to understand any work of art, without any training, or preparation." I couldn't disagree with this more. Just because art is visual doesn't mean it's simple. Art is as complex as the human experience and builds on generations of work that came before it. There is no reason why anyone should believe that art AS A WHOLE is any simpler, or easier to understand, than physics. Yes, there is art that you can understand without any preparation, just as you don't have to be Stephen Hawking to understand that if you throw a rock on earth, it's going to land. But you don't expect a lay person to understand quantum gravity and gravitons without any preparation, and nobody should expect to be able understand all art without using their noggin once in a while.

Best,
Adam

Adam, let me put it to you this way: there's nothing wrong with using the intellect as long as the thinker realizes the limitations of language and thought as a means of understanding art. Words are symbols that can, at the most, point someone in the right direction. Art, if it's effective, is beyond these symbols that the intellectuals treasure so deeply.

Art is like love, as long as you realize that your words will never result in understanding, and that no one truly understands the mystery of love, then go ahead, play with your words, you'll know better.

Thanks Eudoro for the kind comments. I tend to agree with your characterization of both sets of images. I'm happy and content with the results of my efforts and certainly am not looking for gallery representation at this time ;) I don't in any way claim them to be 'Art' in that sense, other than art to me and my family.

I am however curious about what the underlying difference is. Is it intent ? Is it the result ? It is how the result is presented ? More fundamental ? Image content, style, symbolic undertones, connection or disconnection with the viewer ? Intended audience ?

Do I need to fundamentally think differently ? Approach the subject with an equivalence in mind. Get an education ?

Adam - I find your post in reply to Thiago well thought out and very sensible to someone who has been sticking his toe in the water of art appreciation for some time now. I've been putting together a rudimentary understanding of art from Mike's website, from what I've read here & there (I still offer my thanks to Norm Rich who spent some time on the Sony Talk Forum on dpreview a couple years back) and from sources like Sister Wendy, NPR and others.

I agree that there's art that's readily enjoyed by people depending on their taste and then there's art that is not so readily appreciated. Ctein mentions music and I can relate to that ... I've been ripping CDs into iTunes and migrating my nearly 400-disc collection onto my iPod, choosing only the songs I know I want to listen to. I put all of my (very limited and easy to listen to) opera on there, but skipped all of the rest of the classical stuff. I bought a book about building a classical music library because I thought I should, and after a couple years, learned that I just don't enjoy it. I took a classical music appreciation class in college, and could appreciate classical music if I were inclined to put the work into it. But for me, music is for easy enjoyment. For the most part, same with visual arts. Movies. I want movies to entertain me. If they can entertain me and make me think, fine, but I don't want to work at it. I want to look at pretty pictures, interesting pictures, pictures that tell stories, show newsworthy events or people, humorous moments ... many types of pictures. Not pictures that express an idea that I can only grasp if I learn about the artist and understand where he's coming from - at least not often. Now & then. Really, to me, ideas are best expressed in words. Books, poems, essays, opinions. (When I say 'best expressed' I really mean best interpreted by me personally ... I understand that many others like to delve into appreciation of other art forms).

Lots of other good thoughts here about the effort required on the part of the artist and the audience. I also think that there's an elitist aspect that some of us amateurs generalize about, when we hear about work like the guy who covered the Virgin Mary in cr*p and called it art ... I forget if he was objecting to Christianity in general or something specific, but as 'art' it strikes me as the equivalent of Howard Stern, and not worth exploring to see if there's anything substantial to the intent ... and as someone who subscribes to Mike's view of God (per his Sunday Sermon on the supernatural) I wasn't offended as Christians would be offended; I was offended as a person with a brain evolved over the millenia, much as I'm offended by The Simpsons and The Family Guy. (I'm offended that I'm part of a race that's entertained by that). On the other hand, after an article here pointed out the artist who did the cr*p in a can stunt as a commentary on the art world, I can appreciate that (even if I can only pretend to relate to/understand it).

- Dennis

After my last wordy post ... I also wanted to throw in my 2 cents about photography specifically. Ctein wrote:
"If you ask me to explain the import of a photograph of mine, I have to (a) actually understand deeply on a fully consciously level what it is I've said in the work and (b) ..." (cut)

This brings up something that's bugged me for a while. I can't tell you how many times I've read 2-bit advice in 2-bit magazines talking about how, before pressing the shutter, you should have a clear idea of "what it is you're trying to convey". And, of course, there's the old "a picture is worth 1000 words".

And I always wonder - outside of a few artists who use photography as their medium, how many photographers (from amateurs to working pros like the guys in Outdoor Photographer who sell hundreds of photos a year) really spend time thinking about what they're trying to convey for every landscape shot the take. I've seen Michael Reichman on the L-L DVD Journal out shooting and oohing and ahhhing over scene, deciding how he wants to shoot it, then walking over and shooting it. Same with a video tape of Galen Rowell in the field.

To me, most, if not all photographs simply say "Look At This". As for what they convey, I'm sure many photographs are meant to convey a feeling of some sort for a client, but that's obvious intent that doesn't require the kind of advice you find in these magazines. I suppose you could expose to show a scene in a cheerful way or a drab way, to show serenity or action in a waterfall, but the way I often see it worded sounds like you should be trying to achieve so much "more" with your photographs. And I'm not sure there is that much more for most of us.

I've read comments that photographs are best presented in "series" or groupings of related shots. I've read that photographs are best presented in books, not hung on walls. I interpret these comments to mean that a single photograph isn't (or is rarely) a piece of art, but that a collection of photographs can be.

Most of my photographs are mostly intended to capture memories for friends & family; but I shoot partly to capture those shots, but mostly because I never fail to see things ... interesting things ... as I go through each day that I want other people to see. Things in nature that are there for all to see if you take the time to look; priceless moments as children play that most people are too busy to notice. When I see one of these moments in the midst of shooting a couple hundred shots at a birthday party, I can't wait to get back home and see it, hopefully flag it 5-stars, and slowly compile a collection of interesting moments. When it's all done, it will be a modest piece of art that you could call "What I Saw".

- Dennis

A thought experiment.

In responses to the earlier thread, when I wondered what was the difference between a yellow rectangle that I painted and the yellow rectangle that a recognized artist painted, Cstein mentioned the INTENT of the artist. I have no doubt that the intent is part of what I should consider. No argument.

(An aside. Cstein mentioned the difference between his stating that the US should pull out of Iraq and the same statement coming from the President. Yes, certainly one has more weight than the other in the sense that one may lead to real action, but it's difficult to measure the importance of the intent behind the statements. When Cstein says it, the intent may be as important, though not leading to action. But I am wary of stretching analogies that were merely meant as illustrative in nature.)

Say I go a gallery and look at a painting of a yellow rectangle and I don't "get" it. I then pick up an essay that the artist wrote, maybe some critiques of the work, and learn a whole lot about the theory behind that work. And I find the theory behind the work fascinating. Ok, then I turn back to the painting and still see a yellow rectangle. The theory may be interesting in and of itself, maybe even a literary/philosophical work of art, but I tend to doubt that the yellow rectangle will mean much more to me than it did before. Somewhere in the back of my mind, the literal-minded sided of me will still be saying, yeah but it's a yellow rectangle. The theory might be interesting to me, but why should the painting? I hate to be crude, but what is so special about a yellow rectangle?

(I know it sounds like I am disparaging the work, but I don't know how to phrase the question better. Anyway,it's probably happened to the artist before and by better critics than me.)

To stretch the "anyone can do it" analogy. How would we interpret a situation where we are emotionally gobsmacked by a beautiful painting (by Manet, say), only to find out later that it was a masterful copy done by an exceptionally talented forger. The intent of the forger was not the same as that of the original artist (probably), but the brushstrokes were there and they were beautiful, and you had a real emotional reaction to the work. Is that forgery a work of art?

What if it was better than the original?

My problem with these discussions is by the time I am this far into them, I start to think that I am making less and less sense as I go along. This is my last contribution, I promise.

Hey Adam,

Another interesting and thoughtful post, thank you. The only thing I would like to add is regarding

"Without any hard evidence, I would bet that only one of those comments or feelings is truly widespread, namely the latter."

The only hard evidence that I can offer about both feelings is my own life experience (again, subjective). But it is sure possible that my experience do not reflects the majority. Hopefully, I'll accumulate more evidence towards the contrary along the years. It already started, right here.

Player, add me to the list of those who couldn't disagree more. While, as mentioned, I'm a novice at art appreciation, I'm coming in at it from different directions. What you're talking about, I think, is a mixture of personal taste and aesthetics.

Being educated about a piece of art makes for a deeper appreciation. I mentioned in another post that I like to read about ideas & thoughts from thinking people, and prefer to hear music, watch movies and look at pictures that entertain me, stir my emotions or in the case of some photos, educate and inform. But that doesn't mean that I write off an uninteresting photo as uninteresting ... I might simply assume I don't know much about it and leave it at that.

You could look at Shaker furniture and "react" to it. Or you could look at it, understand the Shaker philosophy and appreciate it.

Last night, I saw pictures that were taken by someone who recently spent two weeks in China. Some showed some statues of soldiers. Forget the pictures - they were tourist snaps. Imagine yourself looking at one of these soldiers. Well crafted, you might say. Detailed. Accurate. Too realistic to be trying to "say" something or evoke emotion. And you walk away. Now imagine you're looking at thousands of them. Wow - waste of someone's time ! Then you that in 246BC a 13-year old Chinese ruler ordered these statues to be created, and they were carved over the next 11 years, so that when this 13-year old ruler died, he would be accompanied by an army in his mausoleum, that these statues were buried, found by peasants, and have been in the process of being unearthed by the Chinese government.

Context is critical to appreciating things.

- Dennis

Definition from WordWeb:
Art - Noun
1. The products of human creativity; works of art collectively.
2. The creation of beautiful or significant things.
3. A superior skill that you can learn by study and practice and observation.
4. Photographs or other visual representations in a printed publication.

Hey, "photographs" is included, :~).

I say this is all taste. Based on personal, age, or cultural background / influence.

Do I think "Black Square" is art? At this moment, no, not to me, but I won't try to discredit other people's opinion about it, since they have different taste than I do. I like all things Leonardo, even some of his technical illustrations, I'd consider them art today.

Photos containing nudity can be considered artsy and tasteful. But same picture can be interpreted as pornographic.

Basically, we are all so different, I wouldn't feel uneducated if I don't appreciate certain work, my range in taste is just "different" than some people, that's all.


dw

Player:

"We as human beings are completely equipped, all of us, to understand any work of art, without any training, or preparation."

"Art, if it's effective, is beyond these symbols that the intellectuals treasure so deeply"

"Art is like love", etc.

I wonder if you can back these bold, universal statements with any evidence or argument.

I don't think anybody would claim that human beings are completely equipped to understand the latest works in physics, biology or statistics, without any training or preparation.

I am not implying that there is an analogy between science and art, but it seems very conceivable that some "works of art" (whatever that means) are the product of a lot of thinking, knowledge and experience, and that it may be difficult for someone without proper preparation to fully understand or appreciate it.

In fact going through the effort of training&preparation often makes the experience even more enjoyable.

"I took a classical music appreciation class in college, and could appreciate classical music if I were inclined to put the work into it. But for me, music is for easy enjoyment. For the most part, same with visual arts. Movies. I want movies to entertain me. If they can entertain me and make me think, fine, but I don't want to work at it."

Dennis,
No arguments, but one slight twist to the above: for some people, simple movies (and pictures) CAN'T be entertaining because they NEED something more challenging in order to get enjoyment out of it. I'm not being a snob when I say I don't like pictures of flowers and sunsets. I really don't like them. Years ago I got sensitized to mannerism, formula, special effects as plot substitute, and excess, and I haven't enjoyed very many American movies since then. I'm not being snobbish. I just really am not entertained.

People "get" things in stages. Is it snobbism that a real art aficionado likes things the occasional museumgoer doesn't like, and delights in things that the occasional museumgoer just doesn't get? Not always....

Mike

Wow ... the discussion continues. This is great.

I'm going to have to step in and defend Player's statement, up to a point:

"We as human beings are completely equipped, all of us, to understand any work of art, without any training, or preparation."

I say "up to a point" because I'm not sure it actually applies to "any" work or art. But I do believe that there's a lot of great art that communicates on a very basic human level, requiring no special education.

For example, individual colors elicit a human response because they're strongly associated with natural phenomena that affect our lives. Designers for advertising and marketing are very aware of this fact, and know that certain colors will result in more or less sales for certain types of product. They also know that there can be some variation between cultures. Things get a bit more complicated when you get into combinations of colors. Years ago when I was doing a self-assigned study of design I did a little experiment in which I prepared a number of combinations of color chips (the little colored bits of paper that designers use) and asked people at the company I was working at to describe their responses to the various combinations. The responses were remarkably consistent in meaning, if not always articulated in the same way.
To me this indicates that a painting of a yellow square, for example, can indeed elicit an emotional response. That response will be modified by the color of the border the square appears within, then again by the frame ... and so on, including the entire environment in which the work is viewed.
My point is, and I know I'm repeating myself here (just trying to be clear), that there are ways visual art can communicate feeling that don't require the viewer to be educated in any way about art. Color is just one example. Of course there's nothing wrong with having more "layers" of communication, including those that require some intellectual understanding, but the core emotional impact of a work will come, I believe, from skillfully presented basic elements that speak directly to the viewer's innate human response. Intellectualization may or may not follow.

Cheers all. I am still really enjoying this discussion.

Kent.

One thing to keep in mind is that at all times, 99% of all art is crap. There were tens of thousands of artists in Paris in the 1860s and 70s, and we remember a few dozen.

I like art of all ages, though some more than others: I'm particulary fond of Western European art from about 1880 - 1955. Contemporary art, however, is something different. One example: the famous minimalist scuptor Carl Andre actually became well-known before he'd done any sculpture. The story is, he'd just graduated from college and was kicking around, not knowing what to do (thinking about becoming a writer) and then dabbled in some art ideas he had, based on the up-coming "minimalist" school of art. He took some sketches for a minimalist sculpture made out of stacked fire bricks to a well-known art gallery. The gallery turned him down, but he left the the sketches, which were seen by a well-known critic, who raved about them in print. Andre hustled off to get a stack of firebricks, and there you are: a famous career, that's now gone on for decades.
If you go to the modern art museum in Fort Worth, Texas, the docents will lead you to a room and send you in alone to see what you do...they'll just kind of drop away, and say, "You go ahead." Then they trail in behind you to see if you've walked across Andre's sculpture, which is a flat rusty-brown square steel plate lying on the floor.
Another famous contemporary artist, Damien Hirst, had an "installation" valued at £5,000 thrown away by a janitor who thought it was party trash. (Honest to God: Google it.)

All that tells you is that 99% of attempted art is actually crap, even if it's famous crap.

However, 1 Percent is good stuff. Still is. And that's quite a bit.

Comments on other comments:

Mike " "Academe" (schools) have never been a terribly good source of artists, and that hasn't changed."

Yes, it has. You won't find many well-known contemporary artists who didn't go to art school. And most don't work away quietly into middle age before become known: most become known quite rapidly after they get out of school. Look it up.

HUW Morgan: Second, for Thiago who started all this, there is a very lovely set of DVDs produced by the BBC that gives you a pretty complete art history course in a box. It is narrated by an exuberant nun called Sister Wendy...

Death is better than Sister Wendy. Honestly.

Chris Crawford: "Portraits commissioned by the wealthy for personal enjoyment were about the only type of art in the past that wasn't designed to speak to the masses."

Not true after about 1700 in the Netherlands, after the mid-1800s in the rest of Europe. Before that, mostly (but not entirely) true.

"Today art doesn't even attempt to reach ordinary people, who are looked upon as uneducated trash by elitist artists."

Elitist artists are mostly hustlers; they understand money quite well. Jeff Koons, early in his career, before he was established, often worked bond-sales boiler rooms on Wall Street, and did very well. He quit because there was more money in art. Elitist artists don't try to reach ordinary people because ordinary people don't have the kind of money they require.

Ctein: I don't like most classical music. I don't like opera at all; I just don't get it. I find ballet completely incomprehensible.

I'm with you, brother. I took classical piano lessons for seven years, and went to the chamber orchestra 30 times a year with my late wife (who loved classical music of all kinds), and I say, bring on the Stones. Education doesn't necessarily help if you just don't like it: and I suspect those preferences are established when you're very young. Some older people genuinely get into it (and other stuff like antiques and fine wines.) And it's genuine enough, but I think they are ofen initially attracted by the snob appeal of the subject, and then later find themselves really involved. Just trying to stuff it in your ear doesn't help, though. You gotta want it.

Player: "...you appreciate art from the gut, and the heart, and to the least degree, the mind. "

Sounds like romantic claptrap to me -- but I agree.

Seth: "...the process is what's important, not the end product. I'd like my work to be well received, but it's much less important to me than how well I think I did accomplishing what I set out to do."

No. I don't care how you got it, or what you had to go through, or how hard or easy it was, or whether you have a degree or not. I only care about the object (unless I know you.) I care about process in my own work, but not so much in the work of others, unless I'm trying to learn technique from them. The thing about any art oject is, ultimately, it has to stand on its own.


JC

Hi, Gordon:

Your questions have been my own questions for a long time. If I had a recipe of how to achieve art, I'd gladly use it myself.

But, I an describe my own struggles:

1- Almost nobody invented, "in totum", anything. All artists have drank from other sources,have been influenced by somebody before them... I started looking at the masters of the light, great painters that certainly woud be photographers (at least also photographers) if they lived in our days. Caravaggio an Vermeer paintings are lessons to photographers. I'm learning a lot apreciating their art. Mike's available light photo of a woman in the kitchen, making a salad, has somthing of these old masters in it.
The impressionists, and they were photographer at heart, in the importance they gave to light...
Sebastiao Salgado, is fundamental. You can hate his subjects, almost all of his work is about human hunger and misery, but he is unmistakedly, a master of composition. Each of his photos are carefully, meticulously staged lessons of composition.
Hopper is a modern (he died recently)american painter which, in my own view, is a "photographer" in heart. His work is fabulous, and have been lessons to me.
I try to appreciate at least 15 min a day the work of other photographers. Today we have the ways to do it at the net.
All this didn't made me an artist, but I'm learning something, at least.

2-I'm recognising (IMHO), that in most times, artists are transgressors.
Vermeer and Caravaggio probably were criticized at their time: Why paint a woman inside her home, next to a window, at the sunset, with barely light enough, when you could paint her at full light, with a beautiful landscape, full of flowers as a background?
I (IMHO, again) don't feel that all Mr. Weeks photos in his essay are art,it has its ups and downs, but there are clues, and some are very interesting: There is one photo, taken almost certainly in New York, where his beloved subject is very small, at the right third, engulfed by the big buildings behind her. He transgressed the portraits rules, and showed a delicate human being overwhelmed by the non-humanity of a metropolis. The final result is interesting.
Another one, that of her sat at a leather windchair, where the windchair is fully in focus, and her is in the "bokeh" area.Very interesting, trangressing again, even if (IMHO, again), it has a overblown bokeh, through photoshop, of her face area. I think that he transgressed too much there, and lost the equilibrium.
Another of Mr Week's photo is very interesting...where his subject is at the shadow, at the left third of the photo. Of course, he transgressed all the photographer's "laws" in that one... He did everything "wrong", but the result is instigating, interesting.
In another photo, the carefully composed "casual" part of her hair in part of her back also touches me someway.

3- I'm really not certain if I'm right in this move, but I'm simplifying. I had too many lenses, too much options, I was too worried about tech. I'm seeking to trek different paths, forget a little the technical rules and try to put some soul in what I do. And, at least for me, this means to sell my huge, dedicated, TTL flash, and many lenses. I'm shooting more and more in 28 and 50mm, sometimes around 85, but I'm trying to reach the simplicity of just one 40mm lens, and concentrate in the subjects, in trying different ways of viewing, in expressing what that subject makes me feel, and not in the equipment.

Well, my friend, It's saturday and my family is pressing me to lunch. I just love this marvelous site, that bring us the pleasure of so thoughtful messages. Please pardon me for my english, it's not my primary language. I'm glad and ready to get back to this so interesting thread...

As our mutual friend Ctein says, PAX.

E.L.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil


Mike: "No arguments, but one slight twist to the above: for some people, simple movies (and pictures) CAN'T be entertaining because they NEED something more challenging in order to get enjoyment out of it. (cut...)
People "get" things in stages. Is it snobbism that a real art aficionado likes things the occasional museumgoer doesn't like, and delights in things that the occasional museumgoer just doesn't get? Not always...."

Thanks Mike ... a nice, clarifying reply to my post and I'm pretty sure I agree with it. It makes sense - even when I say that I prefer movies & music that entertain me, rather than stuff I have to work to appreciate, I know that I'm not entertained by certain popular movies/music that entertains many others. And I think it implies that if it might be "work" to appreciate certain works of art early on, you get better at it so that it is not only easy, but automatic (and what was once easy is now too easy). Maybe.

A possibly rather irritating question to everyone: what is the impact of sticking labels on things? Once one has decided whether something is "art", "good art", "bad art", or "not art", or accepted someone else's assignment of one of those categories, what has changed in your relationship to the object or objects? Has it become less or more interesting, less or more moving, less or more communicative, less or more beautiful/repellent/disturbing/comforting/intelligent and so on? Can you do anything different with it? If nothing important has changed, does it matter?

Its financial status may have changed, of course. Is that important?

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