Levels of Artistry

Purdue’s campus has quite a bit of sculpture on display. Most of it is pretty nice; it dresses the campus up very well, giving it a bit more character and personality. But I must admit – sculpture is one of those artistic mediums that I don’t fully understand. Actually, I should probably be a bit more clear. What I don’t understand is simplistic art. I appreciate art that shows complexity, that shows how much work and time and effort the artist put into designing and creating it. I appreciate such art, and I respect and admire the artist for it. Detailed work takes great personal sacrifice on the part of the artist, and it involves great risk to display it in public, waiting to see if they will love it or hate it.

The thing that gets me is when the intellectual takes a higher place of importance to the visual (or the auditory, in the case of musical or literary works read aloud). I can’t understand how an artist could possibly be satisfied with his work of art that is so simple in design that it looks as though a small child could have conceived of it. I realize that the artist probably spent hours trying to decide what shape his work should take so that it could best represent the abstract concept bouncing around in his brain, and I respect that. I do. I guess I just feel that good art should be created in such a way as to need no explanation from the artist in order for the general public to understand and appreciate it.

I saw a painting once that made me turn my head various ways trying to figure out what it was, trying to figure out what possessed the artist to create it, trying to understand what, if any, meaning there was behind it. Someone who knew the artist saw my confusion and proceeded to explain in great detail what the picture was and what the concept was that inspired it. The sad thing is that I don’t remember the explanation now. It was simply too complicated and not at all inspirational.

My philosophy of art is that it should be able to be enjoyed by anyone who experiences it, not just the elite few who think in such convoluted ways as to picture the world from one man’s own twisted mind. I personally think that art should be relatively reflective of the concepts being portrayed ((Though, to be fair, to the artist the work is probably a very clear depiction of the concept he is portraying visually.)). I also tend to think that the art should be more complicated then a few wires twisted around or several pieces of smooth concrete stacked one on top of another. It seems to me that if a child, who is only just learning fine motor skills, can create the work, then that work required very little skill on the part of the artist. It merely required a thought to initiate it, something that anyone can do.

Maybe I’m being elitist in my own way by suggesting that so much of the art that is lauded in our high society is really just a pile of simplistic trash, but I guess I just hold a high standard for what can and should be art. I like to see art that looks like it took effort to bring into existence, that took mental discipline to manufacture, that took great care and love to detail and clearly represent some abstract concept.

3 thoughts on “Levels of Artistry”

  1. Jason Pollack’s paintings can be characterized by fractional dimensions when measured. I look at the examples you cite and think of things from physics or mathematics.

    Does that make it any less art if it can only be understood in terms of difficult mathematical topics?

    Although I have to admit the middle thing looks like crap…

  2. I think this is another topic that I’m kind of working through in my own head. Physics and mathematics as a basis for art is one thing. The medium is based on something that can be understood by anyone who endeavors to learn the physical or mathematical principle. I think where my primary gripe lies is when, for instance, an artist paints a perfectly smooth rock black and sticks it under a lampshade, and then says that it is representative of a dark day in the life of a daffodil. I think of some inane idea like that, something that only the artist really can visualize and understand, even after he has explained it to everyone who will listen. He can explain it, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that his idea, his vision, was expressed in any way that his audience can see in his work. All his audience see is a black rock under a lampshade, and they always wonder what daffodils have to do with it. I’ve seen art that is just that abstract and bizarre, and I’ve never found it interesting. Of course, my opinion is just anecdotal. Maybe there are people who really do understand that kind of art. Or maybe they’re just really good fakers. I don’t really know.

  3. On the other hand, I suffer from depression. If I saw a black rock under a lamp, my response might be strong on an emotional level.

    There might be questions of universality. If a piece of art speaks to only one person, then it might not be very good art. If it speaks to everyone, that would be freaky. There’s people who don’t think the statue of David is art!

    Just because I don’t get or like something doesn’t mean it’s not art. Have you ever noticed the love/ hate/ love/ hate cycle of music? The Monkees were popular. Then, if you listened to the Monkees, you were scum. Then the Monkees had a resurgence. Then they were terrible again. Does this mean what is and isn’t art changes?

    What I wonder about the most is what paintings by elephants mean. They will work on it for a while. If you take it away while an elephant is working on it, an elephant will resume working on it when you bring the piece back. At some point, the elephant will stop working. The piece is finished. Rarely will the elephant resume painting that piece.

    Is it art? It’s definitely abstract, at least from a human perspective. But the composition is often pleasing to humans.

    Is it art? I think so.

    Art is not something parrots produce, or if they do, it is performance art that centers on destruction that I do not understand.

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