Have you ever gone to a gallery to ponder the artwork of a celebrated master and found yourself spectacularly unimpressed?
I have a confession:
For years, I’ve been faking it. I have, on occasion, pretended to be interested in revered artworks. I’ve nodded my head at hideous installations. I’ve lingered for the expected number of minutes on famous pieces of art with my face arranged in a mock-intellectual expression: lips pursed, brow furrowed, one eyebrow arched.
Meanwhile, I’m screaming inside, What the hell is this?
Don’t get me wrong, I adore art. I feel the same way about art that Sarah Silverman feels about cheese. I have a BA in Visual Communications and I studied art history for five years. This officially qualifies me to dress in leopard print, stroke my chin, and engage in art speak using words like chiaroscuro, juxtaposition, esoteric, and en plein air.
In other words, I can artwank with the best of ‘em.
Recently, I went to an exhibition at the Heidi Gallery featuring a pivotal Australian artist named Albert Tucker. As I walked around, I kept wondering to myself: Why this guy? Of all the artists who have slapped paint on canvas, why is this guy’s work celebrated? Was it the times he lived in? Was it his circle of influential friends? Perhaps his highbrow collection of books – displayed in a glass case – made his child-like paintings credible? (And when I say ‘child-like’ I mean a child with a fond interest in drawing prostitutes that look like lumps of flesh with alarmingly oversized genitals.)
Anyway, I was bored. The art didn’t touch my soul, or inspire me, or make me ponder anything deep apart for whether or not the Heide Gallery café had nice food. (It didn’t.)
But I kept quiet about my lack of enthusiasm. Clearly, I was missing something and I needed to work harder to grasp it. This respected artist had hundreds of his paintings on the wall, and I – a mere mortal – simply lacked the class to grasp the deeper message. I wasn’t experiencing the social commentaries, the ugly truths, and his raw expression of wartime urban life. Even after reading a floor-to-ceiling thesis on his work, I didn’t get the hullabaloo.
Then I remembered how, in 2009, a gallery in my neighborhood hosted an exhibition by an emerging artist named Aelita Andre, who painted vivid abstracts in oil that were compared to Jackson Pollock, Salvador Dali and Wassily Kandinsky.
After the work was hung, the Brunswick Street Gallery director was tipped off on one tiny-but-oh-so-important detail about Andre. She was two.
Scrambling to retain its credibility, the art world tossed around terms like ‘child prodigy’ and the gallery director continued with the show, justifying it using the standard arty Klingon along the lines of: Andre has a free-form approach depicting the esoteric nature of all things juxtaposed en plein air in the scintillating sphere of the human experience. Hey, look over there! *Takes off running*
So then … what the hell is art?
Art is created from intuition, and it should be experienced that way too. Do you want to dive in and explore the world inside the canvas? Or does it leave you standing there, bored, thinking about café food?
Whether you’re looking at it or creating it, it’s a personal experience. For some, it’s a walk through the past, for others it moves the soul, and for Aelita Andre, it’s for the pure joy of using her little baby fingers to push squidgy colors around on a big square.
No matter how many big words you use to describe it; no matter how many scholars jump on the bandwagon of the next genius, fine art is only one thing: human animals sticking stuff to other stuff.
How we respond to it is personal, and we shouldn’t feel intimidated by wanky art snobs tripping over their own verbosity. And really, it doesn’t matter if it’s created by a two year old, or a celebrated ‘master.’ If it doesn’t turn you on, it doesn’t turn you on.
Do you visit galleries when you travel? What does art mean to you? Do you pretend to respect art that you don’t understand? Have you ever stood before a revered artwork and thought: “What the f@&# is this s*%$”?