Saturday, October 13, 2007

 

Modern Art Pissing Match

I left a comment on the Dangerous Intersection blog a few days ago and suddenly found myself in a pissing match. I didn't ask to be in a pissing match, but that's where I was.

Erich Vieth posted a picture of a couple of modern art paintings and said that he "wasn't tempted to buy either of these paintings," which were going for $1,300 and $3,200. He indicated that he didn't "get" modern art, which is something I've heard a lot from non-artists. It's as if they feel they don't have the expertise to judge art based on how they react to it. I agreed with Erich, saying that I wouldn't buy the paintings either, and mentioned that our experience of art is subjective - trying to let him know that he could trust his own instincts when it came to paintings.

For opening my mouth, I was promptly challenged by a commenter with the screen name gatomjp to explain myself in detail and to show some of my own work. I felt that I was being placed in a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation. If I didn't link up to my work, I'd be considered chicken. If I did, I'd be placing my art in line for potential potshots, which may or may not be based on the fact that I said something that was disagreeable to gatomjp. I don't have much up in the way of art on my blog, but I did link to my artist trading cards. Gatomjp also asked me to define why, precisely, I didn't like the two paintings presented in the blog.

My reply garnered this response from gatomjp: "Sorry, Mary that's not good enough." I was expected to give an essay on the technical aspects of why I didn't like the paintings. It wasn't good enough that I simply didn't care for them. Gatomjp also leapt to the assumption that I didn't like abstract art at all. He/she did indicate liking my artist trading cards, which was a surprise considering the tone of the rest of his/her comments. I was beginning to think that maybe gatomjp was the artist of the pictured paintings, or perhaps an artist who produced paintings like those pictured. I was stumped by the vehemence at which this person was going after me and thought that if I'd been at a party and someone jumped on me like this, I'd find a way to distance myself right quick. It's not that I mind be asked to give a more in-depth explanation for my opinions, but a little honey (i.e. nicely asking), rather than vinegar (i.e. making assumptions that aren't true) goes a long way in getting my cooperation.

I obliged anyway, giving a long, detailed comment about how a painting can be technically perfect, but if it doesn't speak to my emotions, it will have missed its mark. I used music as my alternate example, because non-musicians have no problem determining what sort of music they enjoy.

As I was thinking further about this issue, and waiting to see how gatomjp would respond to my long comment, I realized that there was more that I had to say about technical vs. emotional aspects in creative works, this time in the subject of literature. When I write short stories, I'm always concerned with the technical aspects of telling a story. How do I turn this phrase? What's my point of view? Am I using cliches? How's my spelling and grammar? Did I break that paragraph at the right time? Do I have any plot holes?

When I read a finished story to my writers group, I'm hoping they will catch problems with the technical aspects of the story. What I've discovered is that this rarely occurs. What happens instead is that the other writers start talking about the content of my story. What happens to that character? Hey, I've had that experience. What's synesthesia? (Or some other obscure topic I've brought up.) After witnessing this several times, I realized that the technical aspects of my storytelling were not jumping to the fore, screaming for attention. They are at least adequate in allowing the story to take center stage. (There's always room for improvement, though.)

This is how it should be with art or music or literature or any other creative endeavor. The technical aspects should remain invisible. The work should appear as though created by magic. Once you've hooked people, gotten them emotionally entangled, they may be curious about how you made it happen. Then you can explain the technique behind the work. If all people notice is the technique, then you haven't done your job as an artist. You haven't truly connected.

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