A Genuine Attempt to Understand & Appreciate Art
Anisha Nath /
I’ve never really understood why people spend so much time looking at artworks. What exactly is it that’s so fascinating or intriguing? I don’t think I could spend even a couple of minutes in front of a painting without getting impatient. Could it be because I’m a Gen Z with an ever-depleting attention span?
People say that appreciating an artwork and deciphering the artist’s intent is an emotional experience. They can evoke emotions like sadness, desperation or even happiness. For example, Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” expresses anxiety and Yayoi Kusama’s “Infinity Mirror Rooms” gives the viewer a feeling of self-obliteration. One reason why a viewer could get emotional is if they already know about the story behind the artwork. It’s also possible that the viewer’s interpretation of the artwork is quite different from the artist’s intention. According to Urban dictionary, “The true meaning of Art is an understanding that there is something more than what is physically represented. What that is, is left to the audience to determine/describe. Thus, the value of each artwork is different for everyone.
I once went to an art gallery, hoping to have the same experience as many art lovers, but I found myself even more confused. Well, most around me seemed to be engrossed in the artworks on display while I was struggling to understand the painting I was looking at. It was beautiful & the artist was skilled. However, I couldn’t help but wonder…
“How long am I supposed to stare at this painting before I get it?”
“Are the people around me getting it or are they also trying to piece this together?”
“Why did this artist create this piece?”
“Should I even care about the artist’s intent with the artwork?”
“What is the relevance of this old artwork today?”
“Am I only looking at it because it’s in a gallery? Would it hold the same value if it were placed in a café? “
For all that are faced with these questions, here’s my attempt to figure out what the hype is about.In the interest of keeping my exploration focused, I have stuck to paintings, keeping away from other forms of art such as music, architecture, etc.
I began my research by googling all these questions I had in mind. I couldn’t find any direct non-philosophical answers that shed light on the significance of art. However, I did chance upon a couple of articles talking about art movements that seemed like an interesting read.
What is an art movement?
An art movement is a certain period during which a large group of artists would collectively adopt a certain, uniquely distinguishable style of art that would set them apart from other art styles. Art movements have set objectives and philosophies that generally lasts a few months to sometimes, even decades. Also, the more I read about them, it became evident that art has deep connections with the ongoing political & cultural movements of their era. Here are some that kept me hooked.
One of the art movements that caught my attention was Pointillism. Art critics had initially coined this term to mock the art style but as its popularity grew, the name took on a different meaning. These artworks are characterized by the distance required between the viewers when looking at a painting. The further away the viewer is, the more “complete” the painting will appear.
Google celebrating George Seurat’s 162nd birthday
Pointillism was an art technique invented by French artists Georges Seurat and Paul Signac in 1886, that involved painting tiny and distinct dots next to one another to form an image. It aimed to employ the knowledge of optics in the creation of paintings. Pointillism uses little dots of color that your eye blends together to create a smooth image. Just like our modern displays that have hundreds of pixels for every inch, blending the colors smoothly. This phenomenon is called optical mixing.
But, how did this art movement even start?
The Regata(1892), Theo van Rysselberghe
Artists wanted to transform what art stood for. So, by inventing this new style, they were able to present a new definition or a different perspective of what it was to be an artist during that time. Pointillism had a more scientific and technical approach to creating artwork. It became one of the most forward thinking art movements and also presented a better understanding of color theory.
Is this art style still used today though?
Pointillism is still widely seen across a diverse array of mediums including fashion, art, and tattoos. The pixels on a computer screen mimic the dots in a Pointillism artwork and this method is similar to how computer screens function today. It’s also similar to the CMYK printing process which is used in printers today, where cyan(C), magenta(M), yellow(Y), and black(K) are combined to produce different colors.
As someone who is a daydreamer and loves fantasy, I found this art movement to be really interesting. Surrealist artists depicted unnerving, illogical scenes and developed techniques to allow the unconscious mind to express itself. The artwork also encourages viewers to explore and try to decode the distorted and bizarre imagery by thinking differently, and not by rational or logical thinking.
The Son of Man(1964), René Magritte
Surrealism was an artistic and literary movement founded by poet André Breton in Paris in 1924. The movement’s aspiration towards liberation of the mind as well as artistic expression has also meant seeking political freedom. Many artists have drawn inspiration from mysticism, ancient cultures and indigenous art as a way of imagining alternate realities.
So, what are the artists trying to show in their art pieces?
The Persistence of Memory(1931), Salvador Dalí
Let’s take a look at Salvador Dalí’s artwork, “The Persistence of Memory”. At first glance, it just looks like melting clocks in a dreamy seashore setting. The distant golden cliffs we see are actually Dalí’s home, the coast of Catalonia. Dalí used to follow a process he called “paranoiac critical method”, to deliberately hallucinate in order to tap into his subconscious. The clocks look like soft cheese which were inspired by Dalí’s hallucinations after eating Camembert cheese. They appear to be limp and their softness represents the hard and sturdy concept of time which loses all its meaning in the unconscious world. The melting clocks are mocking the rigidity of chronometric time. Under one of the clocks, you can see an image of a distorted and fleshy creature which is Dalí’s face. The ants that seem to be attacking the golden watch represent decay.
Where else can we see works of Surrealism besides in paintings?
Surrealism was born during times of war and when artists were looking for an alternate life. They were able to escape from reality with their fantasy, dream-like landscape. The artists have been able to express their unconscious minds, and introduce to us a mysterious and surreal world through cinema, photography, art and literature.
One of the recent art movements today is Street Art. It was born out of the belief that art should function and be outside the system of laws, property, and ownership. Artwork should be accessible rather than stored in galleries, museums, and private collections. It should be inclusive and empowering. The artworks usually reflect political issues, social issues and are used to make a statement. The artists are widely known for the use of unconventional art mediums like spray paint, stencils, and stickers. We mostly see street art in urban neighborhoods and public areas like exterior walls of buildings, bridges and highways. Street art, to a certain extent, is connected to graffiti.
The Little Girl with a Balloon(2002), Banksy
One of the famous street art, “The Little Girl with a Balloon” created by Banksy was of a little girl in a black dress who lets her balloon fly away. Next to this piece is a tag “There is always hope”. This was Banksy’s way of expressing that we should never give up even when everything seems to be at its worst.
So, wondering if I am a convert? And does that mean that I resonate with the collectors that spend millions of dollars for an artwork?
Not exactly, but I have better context & yes, it makes me have a better appreciation of art as a field.
- Art is valuable. Although non-tangible, I do see the value in art. Artists are scribes & artworks are their notes through which they capture their environment. From the geometric motifs and animals found in early prehistoric cave paintings to portrait paintings from the Renaissance, every artwork is a small window into the ways of life of people from various periods in history. And if history has value, so does art.
- Art is powerful. We have countless examples of the impact of art in society. Art has been used as a medium to bring light to gender inequality (Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s “Stop Telling Women Smile”), racism (Damon Davis’s “All Hands on Deck”), and other social problems. It is used as a medium to make a political or social statement which can drive the crowd towards making a change.
- Art is ever evolving. The first evidence of art was found in caves, where people used them as symbols and as a means to communicate with each other. Over time, art has taken different forms and is expressed through different mediums. Today, we can see AI systems creating some really great work. All we need to do is type in a few words and voila, an artwork has been created. It’s exciting to see where we’ll go from here.
I’m sure I’d love to own “The Starry Night” & put it up in my living room, but would I spend a hundred million dollars (even if I did have that kind of cash) on it? Probably not. Not yet anyway 🙂