When We Talk About Art
When We Talk About Art: A 100 million words have been hoisted on art. Probably more like a billion words. And yet, it doesn’t appear like it’s ever going to slow down or stop. Words describing art seem to always get down to one word; interpretation, and it’s a word overused and yet underrated at the same time.
Pablo Picasso went to visit the ice age cave art at Lascaux. Upon exiting the cave in 1940, he remarked, “We have invented nothing.” He also stated that “none of us can paint like this.” Picasso, one can imagine, had no shortage of words when it came to describing art. But in these two profoundly short statements, he made multiple generations try to give them meaning as it applied to themselves. Think about this. The art opinion-makers had a field day with those two abbreviated comments by Picasso. It would take most art aficionados and pontificators literally thousands of words to describe what Picasso saw and how he interpreted them. Art teachers and philosophers spend huge amounts of words and jargon just explaining what we imagine to be the process these early artisans used and how they interpreted their subjects. If you’ve ever seen these cave paintings in books or online, you know what the subjects are. For me, I think these cavemen were creating a dinner menu.
Who talks more about art? The actual creator or the viewer who stands in front of a work of art and begins to express their feelings. Let’s say you pick up a museum catalog and walk over to your favorite painting and proceed to read what the curators have written about that particular work of art. But you don’t stop there. You go home to your computer and Google that work of art. Then you discover that various people have given their opinion on that particular piece of art. The ones who weren’t overly opinionated on the art itself decided to describe the work and relate it to the artist and his life. It goes on and on from there.
Now I know there are people that look at a piece of art or any form of creativity for that matter and simply comment by saying one of two things, “I like it.” Or they say, “I don’t like it.” And walk away. And more often than not, that’s really all that needs to be said. No matter how many words are written about a piece of art, very rarely could you ever persuade someone to like something they don’t really like. Of course, there are people out there that become embarrassed if they don’t say at least outwardly they like something. This is more often than not driven by groupthink and not wanting to look unsophisticated.
If you walk into the Louvre Museum in Paris and stand in front of one of their most cherished paintings, and I will let you guess which one that is, and you openly say, “this work is crap, why would anyone ever suggest it’s anything more than that.” You can imagine the uproar. The individual would be called out as being any one of the following. Uneducated, unsophisticated, doesn’t know or can even appreciate something that is so beautifully done. I like to say, and I’m sure this has been said by somebody long before myself, but I would say, “where ignorance is bliss, it is folly to be wise.” Okay… actually, Shakespeare is the one who coined this phrase. But I’m pretty sure the Bard wouldn’t mind that I copped his quote for this.
Getting back to blissful thinking. Has there ever been one word or a sentence, paragraph, page, or even a book or a series of books that ever truly described a work of art? They’re just a bunch of words, no matter how well coupled together, that have a way of understanding or knowing what was in the artist’s mind when he created the work. Many stories are made up; some are based on hearsay. Some descriptions of a work of art may have been generated by the artist himself. But invariably, the artist is not being all that truthful. He or she will use words to glorify the work. Especially if it’s mediocre, to begin with. There was a time when artists did not want anyone to describe their art. They felt the art should and can stand on its own. Let the art speak for itself, was the slogan. And they meant it. They meant it fiercely because they knew the minute someone started to write about their art; it was an opinion not based on any actuality or reality of what the artist created.
Look at a work of art and try not to formulate an opinion. And if you cannot resist, try and keep it to yourself. A few words from you, no matter how well thought out and no matter how pristine your knowledge of art is, are going to inflict your opinion on others. Unfortunately, they will have to live with it because you just planted it into their interpretation, where it will ultimately rest in their memory and maybe even their subconscious.
As long as there is art, in all of its various forms, someone will have an opinion, and they are going to use words to express that opinion. No matter how prodigious their vocabulary, it’s not going to improve the work of art itself. It just clutters our thinking with words that, rather than spoken or written, ultimately mean very little to the piece of art itself. In fact, if anything hit soils it.
I personally have a lot of respect for people who can look at a piece of art and simply say I like it or hate it. It becomes even more meaningful when they keep that opinion to themselves and walk away to a concession stand, order a hot dog and blissfully let the art float around out in the universe. Just waiting for someone else to be tainted with a bunch of talk, and heaven forbid they choose to write those opinions down just so they can have one more book on the art shelves of libraries.
I myself have written about art. And some people actually liked what I said. Of course, it was my own opinion based on my experience. I never found it genuinely satisfying, and it just became more art talk. Now I know there are people who thrive on that. I found it quickly loses meaning because everything that is written about art is open for interpretation. And you cannot control interpretations based on other people’s thoughts, ideas, and experiences. Instead of me describing my art, I decided to write short stories. They literally have nothing to do with the actual work of art. For me, I want people to come up with their own interpretation, and maybe if I’m really lucky, they’ll leave it by simply saying, I like it: or I hate it: and that for me would be the most perfect complement any work of art could receive.
I will be heading back to my storytelling and let the art do what art does. If it’s lucky, it will hang on a wall somewhere where people can give it a look and then either like it or hate it.