When I was in high school, I happened to run into one of my art teachers when they were three sheets to the wind (I went to a boarding school, so this was not an irregular occurrence), and he gave me some advice that, now that I’m over 30, is the only bit of instruction on analyzing art I can remember by heart: “There are a bunch of critics who wrote thousands of pages trying to explain how art makes you feel a thing, but that’s never going to be a thousandth as important as art that makes you feel a damn thing. The first way you should always encounter art is viscerally.”
The dude could barely stand upright when he told me this, but truth is truth and that’s a very legitimate approach to how we evaluate and tackle art. If art isn’t making you feel something, then there’s not much point to dissecting or discussing it. Even if the feeling is just “fun,” that still makes it worthwhile.
At the Broad today, I had a good afternoon wandering around taking in the modern art- especially the Jasper Johns exhibit currently featured until the end of March. As I noted in the Instagram story shown here, modern art does get a bad rap, but I think it’s because people are looking for art that displays rather than conveys.
What I mean by that, is “classic” art depicts and displays: pastoral scenes, historic and dramatic scenes, or landscapes, etc. It has a reality (even a fantastical or mythical one), that it’s capturing and presenting. Even impressionists are experimenting with the means and base elements of depiction versus composition.
Jasper Johns’ exhibit today was a study in a career exploring means of conveying rather than displaying. A lot of his work is about toying with perspective and objects beyond traditional means of painting to convey an idea of a thing. Whether that thing is an idea like “perspective,” the form we understand as a number, or the ideas represented traditionally by different shapes and colors, such as “America,” he’s trying to question how we put form and color together to draw that idea, and what the idea/concept means when it’s conveyed in an unconventional way.
The big inspiration I took away today is the goal Jasper explored and repeated attempts at conveying for years at a time in some cases: a concept, or idea he wanted to convey and then exploring form, color, medium and methodology at communicating that idea (or a perversion of it) to the viewer.
I need to think about the concepts I’m trying to convey in my own work and writing- whether it’s fun, comfort, or love- and use my own tools of diction, imagery, metaphor and narrative to convey it. I hope my readers feel it, feel something resembling truth, a sense of life, or grace to burn within them from my own work.