A Lack of Faith or Just a Lag in Understanding?
Unfortunately for me, such a leap of faith was impossible for my teenage mind, and I don't think I actually learned another thing for the rest of that year in chemistry. This penchant caused me problems in German as well, where the teacher would suggest I keep reading, rather than look up each word I didn't understand, and cull the meaning from context. I looked up each word instead. If I didn't get it, my mind shut down. No faith for you, chemistry concept. Keine Glaube fuer dich, Chemievorstellung (the brutality of that translation explains why my teacher was right to steer me away from my attempts at word-by-word comprehension, btw). But to bullheaded Ed, if the meaning wasn't clear, if I couldn't grasp and tuck away the idea to then build upon it with more complex concepts, my brain would sit down, legs crossed on the floor, with a big pout, and not budge. I'm happy to say I've matured a bit since then (perhaps), but still very much understand the impulse.
This notion came back to me when traipsing through one of my favorite sections of ArtNews: their Retrospective segment, where they group quotes from 100, 75, 50, and 25 years ago, generally verifying that the more things change, the more they say the same. From their June issue came this gem:
75 Years AgoWe've already been all over how unlike giving birth creating a painting is, but I think perhaps Henri's second idea here provides insight into what I see as evidence that not only does the general public not give itself enough credit with regards to how much they "get" (or don't "get") contemporary art, but that artists should care more about what other artists think about their work than the public if they're attempting to break new ground or push beyond what they think they know.
M. Matisse’s most engaging statement was undoubtedly his pat reply to the World Telegram’s inquiry as to the aesthetic perceptions of rich old lady patrons:
"When a painting is finished, it’s like a new born child, and the artist himself must have time for understanding. How then, do you expect an amateur to understand that which the artist does not yet comprehend?"
—“Matisse Speaks,” June 3, 1933
But there are two ideas in there, so I'll tease them out. First is the observation that the general public, which is frequently cited as not really getting (i.e., liking) much of contemporary art, might be getting a bum rap on that. Consider the widespread public reaction to Impressionism when it first hit the salons. Critics and amateurs alike were aghast. Today, however, an Impressionism exhibition is almost a guaranteed blockbuster for any museum. Likewise with pure abstraction, which perhaps only a few decades ago was still widely being labeled as fraudulent, but increasingly I hear as cited as casual art lovers' favorite genre of painting. In other words, the public does seem, eventually, to catch up with the artists. Matisse's assessment, then, isn't a condemnation of the amateur, but merely an honest observation that comprehension can take time and if you're not up to your hips in an investigation or practice, it can take you even longer.
The other idea, my not being an artist, represents perhaps a bit of talking through my hat, but I can only imagine how much courage it takes to keep working on a new concept/approach to one's art when there's only head-scratching (or worse) in response by the general public. When I talk with student artists about the importance of building a support network if they want to enter into the art world's gallery system, I nearly always see a bit of resistance to the idea that the most important subgroup within that network should be other artists. "Aren't they my competition for getting into a gallery?" Only if you're making essentially the same work, would be my honest reply, but instead of saying that I focus on how even the best art dealers and curators out there won't be as good a sounding board as fellow artists oftentimes. Letting a dealer or curator, who might have agendas far different from why an artist is investigating unchartered terrain, impact whether he or she continues down that path seem an unavoidable reality of the art world, but without at least comparing such advice with that of artist friends first, I can't help but think the artist is denying him/herself potentially the best evaluation.
OK, so I see I'm rambling. Thank God I don't have an editor on this thing. Otherwise, I might have to go back and make more sense of some of that...but coffee calls.
Happy Weekend all.
Labels: art appreciation