SPEAKERS’ CORNER: How to Look at Art?
During the Speakers’ Corners meetings we show our interests and passions — my passion is art and writing about it, so I have decided to create a sort of educational presentation regarding the ways we can interpret art in order to understand it better.
I think contemporary art is often wrongly regarded as hard to get, pointless or just a product of pure vanity of the art market. While it might be true in many cases, not all the art created in recent decades tries to fool us. Despite the fact that many of us find it difficult to comprehend what the work of art wants to tell us, usually is just the lack of preparation or a will to open one’s mind that prevent us from understand the meaning that hides behind the canvas, installation or gestures of an artist.
First of all, we shall be aware that there is no one sole definition of art and that, in today’s world, everything is art: from ready made objects to social projects and provocative performances. As Donald Judd once said, “art is everything what is considered as art”. It is the consequence of the conceptual art movement from the late 19060s that contemporary art is so fluent and crosses all the barriers. Secondly, we have to remember that the perception and the physiology of an eye is also determined by culture, habits and knowledge:
“All perceiving is also thinking, all reasoning is also intuition, all observation is also invention.” — Rudolf Arnheim
In my presentation I’ve also stressed the importance of exhibitions and of the Internet in perceiving art: through a life experience or via reproductions and photographs.
Summarizing, the most important aspects of looking at modern art are:
- FORM — medium (painting, object, installation, performance, art as social intervention, etc.);
- CONTEXT (art on an exhibition, site-specific art, intervention in public space);
- THEME — message;
- CONDITIONS & CIRCUMSTANCES (art market, economy of art).
I’ve divided my speech into 10 sections, which were inspired by the book Ways of Looking: How to Experience Contemporary Art by Ossian Ward. In these section I prove that looking at art is not just a question of aesthetics and taste — art brings to us these aspects of reality that we often don’t see or don’t want to see.
Art as a Reflection on Art Itself
Many artists use the expressive power of art to talk about the condition of art in a particular moment and about its dependence on the art market and money. One of them is Urs Fischer, who created his installation entitled You to play not only with a viewer’s perception, but also with the ideology of the white cube — the modern art gallery space. A big hole in the gallery;s floor, instead of artworks nicely placed on the walls — it’s his way of knocking the viewer from a cognitive lethargy.
Art as a Dialogue with the History of Art
I referred here mostly to the appropriation art movement and I recalled such works as Marcel Broodthaers Modèle- La Pipe, which he modeled on basis of Rene Magritte’s famous painting; Marcel Duchamp’s L.H.O.O.Q.; and Yinka Schonibare’s The Swing installation inspired by the Fragonard’s rococo painting.
Art as a Social Act
We may also see art as a way of changing the reality around an artist, who tries to collaborate with particular groups of people to make others aware of their situation. Such artists are, for example, Paweł Althamer and Ai Weiwei.
Art as a Confrontation
Contemporary artists love to incorporate us into their installations and thus, to confront us with our own fears. Yayoi Kusama makes it by using colorful polka dots and organic forms that she associates with the anxiety to her childhood trauma — the work can also be read as a means of therapy, of confronting a fear by representing it on a grand scale. Maurizio Cattelan, on the other hand, often uses shocking means to throw us off balance — as in his sculpture HIM, presented in the gate of one of the building in the district of the former ghetto in Warsaw.
Artists like to provoke, but we shouldn’t fall for it. In works of many artists, who still wear the etiquettes of provocateurs, we can find deep meanings, as in the works of Tracy Emin, Marc Quinn or David Černý.
Art as a Joke
We don’t have to always treat art seriously — sometimes it’s just a joke — usually on art itself and on the mechanisms that rule it. Good examples of such art are Damien Hirst’s For the Love of God and a lot cheaper pastiche on it made by a Polish artist, Peter Fuss, For the Laugh of God.
Art as an Entertainment
Art’s main purposes were always to teach, to delight and to move (lat. docere, delectare, movere). Artists who make us the active creators of their installations, such as Ernesto Neto or Tomas Saraceno, fully explore this entertaining value of art.
Art as Intervention
In the 1970s art left the art gallery and museum to enter the public space. Richard Serra’s Tiled Arc is considered to be the symbolic work of art that represents this shift from a closed room to a civic open space. I personally prefer the recent realizations, for example, Simone Decker’s Chewing Gum sculptures in Venice, in 1999.
Art as Meditation
The most traditional function, nowadays often underrated, is the function of contemplation. Look at the brushstrokes made by Gerhard Richter, Fiona Tan or Jackson Pollock, and you will know what I mean.
Art as a Confrontation with Death & Suffering
Last but not least, art’s aim is to challenge us and confront us with the death and the transience of life. In the past eras this function was realized by memento mori topics and dances of death, nowadays artists are less sensitive and show us the futility of the earthly life: Zbigniew Libera in his video Intimate Rites, and Ron Mueck in his rescaled sculptures of old people.
The final part of my speech was to give all of us some good advices on how to look and perceive art with all our senses and mental powers in order to get the essence of it:
- Don’t be afraid of the contemporary art museums and galleries — they are there for you!
- Get to know the rules that govern the art world so you can feel more confident.
- Think about artists as normal people rather than geniuses & abandon all the clichés.
- Learn to look in a way to understand the message.
- Be patient — looking and experiencing are not easy — it’s similar to laying on a couch at the psychotherapist — you have to OPEN UP!
- Remember that perception is the subject to numerous conventions — fight with them!
- Try to look without going into biographical and artistic details; instead, focus on the aesthetic values of the work of art…
- …then get to gain some knowledge on artist and his art.
- You can also just experience art with all your senses.
- Ask questions about a work of art whether it is still valid, and raises important problems, or moves you in any way, maybe makes you angry? (sometimes art is supposed to piss you off).
I hope this will help you looking at art. It can be real fun!
Originally published at pixersize.com on April 19, 2016.
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