Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Don't Know Much about Art

Above, a painting of mine whose only real innovative aspect
is that the shadows are wrong.


Art. Gah. What do I say about a subject like this???

I've loved art my whole life. I even made a living for quite some time by working as an artist. But the truth is, I know nothing about the subject.

My approach to art is that of a child: It's fun. I wanna see if I can make something look like something else. And I like making pretty pictures.

Like most children, I adored drawing and painting and sculpting. Unlike most people, though, I never lost my taste for it as I grew up. Still, though I had a certain amount of talent, over time I realized I would never make it as a gallery artist. I came to understand that art, real art, MODERN art wasn't supposed to be about pretty pictures. It was supposed to be about social commentary. The symbolic representation of angst and alienation. The expression of the innermost, usual negative, often existentialist thoughts of an artist.

(Ever go to an art opening and read the "artist's statement"? I rest my case.)

Part of my problem with this approach to art, which could be blamed on me being middle-aged if it weren't for the fact that I've believed it my whole life, is that so many artists are young. Barely out of their teenage years. And most of us aren't that interested in the innermost thoughts of the young, because, frankly, most young people haven't lived much yet.

Give me the expressions of old folks, and I'm there. Or the very young, of course, before they become self-conscious. But the 20-year-old gallery darling? Eh.

To quote my character Annie Kincaid, protagonist of the Art Mystery novels, "Call me a boring traditionalist, but when it came to art my tastes were stuck in the Renaissance, an era when artists expressed humanity's noblest hopes, ambitions, and dreams. If I wanted a scathing commentary on social alienation I could read the newspaper."

Many of Caravaggio's paintings were considered quite shocking in his time.
It was a different brand of innovation.

Okay, I'm not actually that extreme. Ever since the birth of photography, the goal of painting has gone beyond mere representation of reality. And there are plenty of examples of "ugly" modern art that truly speak to me, that beckon the viewer to look beyond the obvious to a deeper meaning, a complex understanding of the human condition and the world around us.

But the problem with so many modern artists valuing innovation over technique is that there isn't all that much to say after the first expose. For example, the first fellow to paint a black triangle on a black background? A genius. The similar work that followed? Derivative tripe.
Marcel Duchamp's Fountain, made from a urinal, was innovative in 1917.
Later toilet-inspired works? Not so much, in my opinion.


I think part of the problem with art in this country is that most students aren't taught the basics of the classical approach. Like modern dancers who study ballet, modern artists in Europe learn to copy Old Masters first, because skipping the history of one's field comes at the expense of depth, history, gravitas.

As a teacher in Florence once told me:
"You must learn your tradition in order to properly spurn it."Above, my copy of a detail from a 1640 Georges de La Tour painting,
The Fortune Teller

On the other hand...some of us are great at mimicking tradition, but not so gifted at innovation. Which isn't to say I won't, someday, become a gallery darling myself. Maybe when I retire from writing full-time I'll discover a true gift for dripping art on a canvas on the floor, a la Jackson Pollock. But I'm not banking on it.

In the meantime, I'll paint pretty pictures just because. It's fun.

9 comments:

Rachael Herron said...

Good grief, you are so GOOD.
Your still willing model,
me.

Sophie Littlefield said...

hee hee - another willing model. and i love that you are the exact inverse of an art snob! :)

Juliet Blackwell said...

I SOOOO want to paint both of you! How come we have no TIME? Let's try to schedule something in the next month or two...I've been itching to pick up my paintbrushes. (probably procrastinating with my writing, right?)

synde said...

oh but Jackson Pollack was kinda hawt... I went to Art school and got an MFA, but I am so the opposite of art snob..
your painting is pretty damn amazing.

Mysti said...

someone told me once that modern art was art about art. That always seemed like a very narrow focus--no better than art always being about religion or always being about feeling or.... Fiction about fiction can make for a long, annoying headache ;)

Looking and seeing are two different things. You can really see things, Ms. Julie!

Mysti said...

someone told me once that modern art was art about art. That always seemed like a very narrow focus--no better than art always being about religion or always being about feeling or.... Fiction about fiction can make for a long, annoying headache ;)

Looking and seeing are two different things. You can really see things, Ms. Julie!

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