Enjoying Exploration and Appreciating the End
A standout quote of your response with emphasis (mine) on two key words and two key ideas:
“I don’t like observing exploration without a product. Exploration is a means to an end, a private step on the road to a great masterpiece…
If the artist will not attempt to express their findings in an appealing way, why should I care?”
Like & Should
The thing about art, and most things in life, is that it’s perfectly okay to dislike something that someone else likes, and to not care about something that others care about.
Dislike and apathy are acceptable reactions. No one compels you to be interested or moved. There are no art police that will enforce appreciation or concern.
Private Process & Appealing Result
Although exploration may be a means to an end, it doesn’t always have to be. It is not defined by being private or resulting in a masterpiece.
(Interestingly, it is defined as the action of traveling in or through an unfamiliar area in order to learn about it. Nothing more, nothing less.)
We often misunderstand the purpose of art to be appealing, and we expect that the artist owes us something in exchange for our attention.
Art is a creative expression, and we often appreciate it deeply, but creativity is about imagination and innovation, not necessarily appeal.
I couldn’t help but examine it further — because I think about art and attention and appreciation often.
On Enjoying Exploration:
Interim steps are often means to an end, and we don’t always need to have them hailed or valued at a high price point.
However, we do see plenty of examples of people enjoying the opportunity to see different parts of the experience & development, not only a final, perfect product or performance.
We love behind-the-scenes documentation, unboxing videos, blooper reels. We do watch videos of athletes in training and want to read about people’s process for creativity.
The biggest difference, perhaps, is that we don’t particularly care to see the explorations of people until their final product or performance is impressive.
Once an athlete is a high-level competitor, then we are interested in their training regimen, diet, and watching them practice or lift weights or work with a trainer. We didn’t necessarily care to watch their videos of them as a child first learning their sport — but we might, once they become remarkable. Then we want to see how it all began, how the parts became the whole.
Similarly, once an artist is renowned for their commentary or insights or artistic innovations, then we are interested in the complete oeuvre of their work. The artists we recognize as great today get retrospectives that pull the curtain back and show us the context of where those famous pieces fit within that artist’s progression. But they’re not getting showcased while in art school or as a child.
I think one of the great things about the internet is that it allows more of us to share as we go instead of only once we reach that level of renown and fame, once society sees us as interesting and worthwhile. It doesn’t mean that society and everyone (or anyone) should or will appreciate our work.
It simply means we have a way to share our explorations as they happen, to hone our craft publicly.
Platforms like Medium exist so that writers (like me) have somewhere to publish our drafts (like my original essay) as well as more polished pieces. I follow many artists (designers, cartoonists, photographers, letterers, painters) on Instagram and enjoy seeing their process and explorations.
Appreciating the End:
The more I have thought about this issue of hating modern art, since I first wrote that essay almost two years ago, there more I consider the purpose of art.
Not all art is intended to be enjoyed.
Not every end result is, itself, recognizable or appealing.
Much art — especially modern art — is intended to comment, to respond, to provoke, and to question.
Thinking about what enables artists to create art, there’s a tremendous difference between the past and today.
Artists, like everyone else, need to survive. For most of human history, architecture, sculpture, and painting were commissioned works.
Governments and wealthy individuals paid artists, artisans, and tradespeople to create things that they wanted or needed. With that payment and support, they also often controlled content and creative direction.
But as artists gained autonomy and the model has shifted away from commissioned pieces towards fellowships and galleries, the more that artists experiment and make what they want.
They can comment on war and politics. They can rebel against society’s preferred styles of art. (Impressionism was originally a critic’s word for an approach that was a conscious shift away from the approved style.)
Modern art is not always, or maybe even often, made for the audience to enjoy it.
It’s not defined by an intention to be put on display in celebration of a personal or a political achievement.
Although some people may like it and showcase it and sell it, and although certain artists may gain fame and influence the popular style of art, that is not what it is always designed to do.
Yet even art that was once rebellious — Impressionism, for example — is now recognizable and evocative for us. Its intention was to generate an emotional experience for a viewer. What was once very modern and vexing can become so familiar over the years that it shifts away from unknown and unlikable to recognizable and perhaps even lovable.
Another challenge of modern art is that sometimes we need to know context to understand and appreciate it.
Unlike classic art that was designed to be understood by an uninformed audience (for example, churches have figures in scenes to illustrate, literally, the stories of the bible), modern art doesn’t always care if it’s “readable” at first glance.
A modern piece, like Anish Kapoor’s black mirror or a Jackson Pollack splatter painting, isn’t immediately legible to a viewer. Maybe it was just a process piece for the artist, or maybe the intention was for the audience to react to it & then gauge their own reaction. It may be relevant to know where the artist lived, what they experienced, who they knew, and what events they were responding to.
Their pieces don’t always stand alone for an unfamiliar viewer to appreciate, or at least, to have the same experience as the artist’s original intended audience would have.
Instead of being told a story, like in classical art, modern art can be a meditation, it can be a criticism or a rebellion, and it can be an exploration to an end that we may not recognize or even like.
The existence of these works and our reaction to them — even if that is disgust and not adoration — can be a spark, can make us question what we see and feel, can make us wonder what they were responding to, can make us curious.
So while I personally may not enjoy the appearance of many works of modern art, I appreciate their role in the history of art and in conversation with society.