Sunday, January 25, 2009

Are You an Objective Observer? (How Do You Connect To Art?- part two)

In my last post I talked about narrative being an obstacle in fully appreciating a piece of art. Speaking as a painter, if I write about a painting I've done, I am, in a sense influencing you to see the piece as I see it. Should I want to do that? Clyfford Still refused to even title his paintings because he did not want to influence the viewer. He even forbade anyone from writing about his work, which stemmed, in part, from his contempt for art critics, but again, he wanted the viewer to be free to interpret his work. You may think to yourself, "but you painted it, I want to know what it means, and I want to hear your explanation". But I think an artist's life experiences have more value in "explaining" their work than even anything they themselves would write. Our own life experiences allow us to empathize, love, hate, and sympathize with others, and ultimately that serves to connect us in some way. So does an artist's character, personality, life have any bearing on how you connect to their work? Is it possible to separate the artist from the art and be a purely objective viewer? My gut reaction is no, because when someone creates something, be it a painting, sculpture, a book- whatever, a piece of them is in that creation. It's a very personal, courageous way to speak. When you feel yourself drawn to a particular painting, you naturally want to know more about the artist- that's just human nature. For example, the notion of the "tortured artist" is very intriguing, and perhaps it does influence us on some level. Does knowing that an artist suffered from mental illness, drug or alcohol addiction, or some other physical ailment make their work more interesting than the work of a happily married housewife? Perhaps. I think it may depend in part on what you identify with, or what you are drawn to. According to Tom Ludwig (whose article I referred to in the previous post) we need to be objective when viewing art. But let me play devil's advocate here: is it really possible?

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