Friday, November 12, 2010

Photoless Friday (04): I don't know anything about art [not true], but I know what I like [not true]

When I hear people say, "I don't know anything about art, but I know what I like," I experience a number of conflicting emotions (I confess that, depending on what I'm looking at, it even can be my own gut reaction), but since the unexamined life is not worth living, here are a few ruminations, in case you feel this applies to you, and you're interested in getting over this art angst (you'll feel better, afterwards, really you will)....More......

(1) "I don't know anything about art..."

Not true. Simply not true.

Everything you've seen throughout your life--and the context in which it was seen--has helped to shape your taste.

Even if you may not be consciously aware of the precepts and judgements inherent in that presentation.

Aye, as we say, there's the rub.

Setting aside the more complex phenomenon of the change of taste in any given society over time, let's use one example that might break the impasse.

Let's say that you grew up in a household that didn't really pay much attention to art, but, for devotional reasons, had that old well-known print of a guardian angel helping two kids over a scary bridge.

Looking at that print, day in and day out, because it comforted you, because your mom called your attention to it to remind you to be careful while crossing the street, because..., because... because..., you formed an unconscious idea of what art should be like.

It should be in a traditional medium, like a print, for starters.

It should have realistically portrayed images.

It should use a very precise rendering of the images portrayed.

It should be in realistic colors (or, if not, in black and white).

Those are four very powerful conditioning concepts (we could make a longer list, but these will suffice).

Now let's backtrack in time to the late 19th century: Impressionist paintings.

Traditional medium (painting): CHECK

Realistically portrayed images: CHECK

Precise rending: BZZZZZZZ

Realistic colors: BZZZZZZZ

Did you know that Impressionist painting, which pretty much everyone today accustomed to the occidental way of painting recognizes as 'beautiful,' roused up hornet's nest after hornet's nest of protest? Well, it did. 'Til people got used to it.

Ditto for the Fauvres, for example, and for Picasso and his ilk (there's my own personal taste bias peeking out, if you can catch it), let alone "happenings," video art, light installations, and so on and so forth, that aren't in a traditional media.

See? You do know more about how you define art than you think, it's just that your judgements are unconsciously formed.

(2) "...but I know what I like."

Also not true.

If you're not consciously aware of the mental yardstick you are using to make your distinctions between "I like that" and "I don't like that," than you don't know what you like.

What you really mean is "...but I can pinpoint what I like."

You could go into an art gallery with me, and point your finger at things as we walked through it, saying "I like that...I like that...I really like that...I DEFINITELY do NOT like that...," and so on, but you wouldn't know why.

That's the point of this (windy, but hopefully fun) post.

If you want, you could go to an art appreciation course (concentrating on, well, appreciating/understanding taste), or an art history course (concentrating on, well, the history broadly understood).

"Aahhh man, that's gonna be so boring!" Is that your immediate response?

It wouldn't be, really, you just have to find what piques your curiousity, and pursue that, but if you can't get over this fear, just try asking yourself, "What am I SEEING?" and "Why and I responding in the way that I am?"

You'll be on your way to creating your own personal art yardstick, whether still conditioned by traditional taste, or open to new currents.

The important thing is to KNOW.

What's all this got to do with Milan?

Milanese art, conditioned by courtly International Gothic taste long after the Florentine developments we now call the Renaissance, long was pooh-poohed even by professional art historians into the 20th century, whose own personal art yardsticks were conditioned by Renaissance rules.

Thankfully, that is changing, and historic Milanese art is, like its history, being reevaluated with a more neutral eye (well, as neutral as it's possible to be).

(P.S., ARE YOU A PROFESSIONAL OF ANY SORT NEEDING TO HONE YOUR ATTENTION TO DETAILS? Doctor? Lawyer? Private Investigator? Et Al? You probably will be able to improve your skills of observation by at least 10% by studying art history...combine work with fun, why not?!)

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