Damn the Renaissance! Open Thread
I spied this humble hoop of small brown stones on the street the other day. Normally the kid in me delights in finding shiny objects in my path, but this one provoked a shrug and "ehh" until it dawned on me that a member of my family would probably adore that style of jewelry. I could hear her say "How beautiful!" in response to me, er, re-gifting it to her. (Settle down: I left it where it lay.)
But it did make me wonder why this woman whose favorite painter is renown for his luminescent snow-capped cottages could appreciate the beauty of something as abstract as the chunky earth-tone stones in an asymmetrical grouping. This woman who I know to sneer at Abstract Expressionism and other such achievements when on canvas, actually has a rather highly refined appreciation for abstraction in jewelry. And she's not alone, I know. This media bias is widespread.
I wondered: how do we not celebrate what's assumed to be a highbrow appreciation in some media when it's revealed via other media? And more than that, where did this come from, this abstraction appreciation? And why on earth doesn't it extend to paintings?
My first suspicion was training. Despite great advances in moving away from this real-o-centrism over the past century or so, Westerners have been trained to expect representation in painting and that's that, as they say where I come from. But it seems silly in light of the fact that 1) appreciation of beauty has almost assuredly always included a highly developed appreciation for abstraction (as jewelry and patterning stretching back millennia suggest)--indeed, when we take in the dramatic gradations of a sunset or stare up from our blanket on the lawn through the jumble of leaves of the tree we're picnicking under and sigh "ahh, how beautiful" it's not the representational qualities of what we're seeing that pleases us--and 2) it's totally illogical to assign expectations of this sort to certain media without being consistent about it (i.e., jewelry can be both abstract and representational and still please our sense of how things should be, but when it comes to painting and even sculpture we [Westerners] are still highly resistant to seeing it that way). In short, it's human nature to appreciate abstraction in general, but we fight it when it comes to "fine art."
But how did it get to this point, this artificial division of expectation? I blame the Renaissance. Specifically, I blame Giotto and subsequently that myopic and meddlesome Piero della Francesca. They and their respective contemporaries launched the accelerated race toward realism for its own sake that still plagues us today--Giotto somewhat inadvertently, but della Francesca with an arrogance and recklessness akin to that displayed by the scientists on the Manhattan Project. By setting in motion the successive "achievements" that would send young artists scrambling to out-realist their predecessors, they introduced a dehumanizing virus of sorts into their disciplines, one that paralyzed a portion of how we truly see and appreciate what's around us. Lord help the hapless young Florentine foolish enough to suggest that perfect perspective and rigid rules of rendering were antithetical to true perception. From that point of Roman machismo up through the dawn of Modernism, there were, of course, those who saw the truth and sculpted or painted it, but they constantly risked scorn or misunderstanding in do so. And so here we are...artificially divided. Of course that is changing. More and more Westerners appreciate abstraction in painting all the time, but...
OK, so I knew I'd run out of time before finishing this, which I have. I promise to pick it up later, but feel free to jump in and correction my misunderstandings or faulty conclusions here....