Sunday, September 25, 2011


The sun is out finally and I feel like pontificating so here is my Sunday Art Sermon.                                    

A painting is always a story that the artist is telling the viewer.  The story begins, "once upon a time I was here and saw this.  I thought it was so interesting or beautiful or meaningful that I spent time trying to bring it to life in paint".  If it is an abstract painting it is still the same message because as the artist is painting away he or she comes to a point and says, "Here, this is the story I want to tell" and stops. They may be saying something like, "The way the blue meets the slightly orangish purple and doesn't impose itself too harshly upon the eye is so ravishing that nothing else could possibly add to the story."
There is often more to the story than the first impression and when there are many layers of meaning the painting resonates in ways that can't be said in words, that's why it is a painting instead of a short story...and yet art critics spend much time putting into words what has been said more eloquently in paint.
However, sometimes these words are more eloguent than the paintings themselves as art critics are extremely inventive. Since people are in general much more comfortable reading an explanation of a painting than actually experiencing the art work, I think this explains why some quite unremarkable art becomes very popular for a time.  Critics and gallery owners presented with the job of explaining art work that doesn't really contain anything, come up with some creative narratives about it.  People who prefer to read something concrete rather than look at the art work get the story from the writer, then "see" that story in the art work.  Eventually this art work is 'seen' for what it really is as the story doesn't hold up without the words to prop it up.
For me the old maxim "Seeing is believing" when appreciating art is the holy grail.  And even "I don't know anything about art, but I know what I like" has merit.  At least this speaker is trusting his or her own judgement about what they see rather than someone else's story about it.