Sea Blue Lens


…But I Know What I Like

Is It a Message?

When it comes to art, I know what I like — and I also know what I don’t like. Maybe. Lesson 7 in Find Your Eye: Journey of Inspiration asks us to consider why we have negative reactions to some works of art.

I’ve really been blocked on this assignment. Though I’ve touched on this topic previously, here and here, I’m a person who is very uncomfortable pronouncing judgements. One of the overriding principles of my life is to never say or do anything that will hurt or offend anyone. I know that’s not a realistic goal or even necessarily a good one, but it’s who I am.

Living on the Edge

I realize that art appreciation is very subjective. Something I love may leave others cold, and vice versa. But I have to admit that there have been many times when I have visited an art gallery or museum and have asked myself, “What makes that ‘art’? Why is that [whatever] considered worthy of hanging in a museum?” Sometimes I just don’t get it.

I remember once seeing in a museum a canvas painted entirely white. There were not even any brush strokes visible. It could have been a blank wall, except a wall would have had more texture. The narrative next to the painting went into great detail about the significance of this master work, all of which sounded like gibberish to me. All I could think of was the Emperor’s new clothes.


I don’t like art that makes no sense, or makes me feel stupid. Drips and blobs of ugly colors don’t speak to my soul, no matter what they are titled or how the critics rave over them or how much they sell for at auction.

For a work of art to be significant to me, it needs to touch me in some way. I need something I can respond or relate to, whether it’s color, design, pattern, or story. I prefer beauty to ugliness, though again, I realize that the perception of beauty is also very subjective. I prefer art to lift me up, stir my imagination, pique my curiosity, or make me think, or feel, or marvel over the skill and vision of the artist.


On the other hand . . .

I don’t like it when others assume I won’t like something, based on their perception of me. I don’t like being put into a box. I don’t like being told, “You don’t want to see that – you wouldn’t like it.” Sometimes they are right, but often they are not. In any case, I want to decide for myself. I want to keep my heart and mind open to new experiences. I want always to continue learning and growing.



Don’t Know Much About Art…

Oh boy. I’ve been putting this off, probably because it feels more like homework than our other Find Your Eye lessons do. I’m supposed to ponder and write about my own definition of “art,” consider whether I think photography is art, and whether I think of myself as an artist.

Of course, the first thing that comes into my mind is that old cliche, “I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like.” I think the reason it’s such a cliche is that for most people, it’s the truth. It’s a fact that I don’t know much about art. I’ve never studied art history or even had an art appreciation class. It’s also a fact that I’m quite opinionated about it, nonetheless. I do know what I like. So I suppose I must have a definition, or at least a concept, of what “art” is, but it’s difficult to put into words.

I believe art is an impulse deeply rooted in the human psyche. We bring art into our lives whenever we do something in a way that goes beyond merely meeting our needs for utility or survival. Humans crave beauty, and we also crave expression of our own creative spirit. When we style our hair, or put on lipstick, or plant flowers by the front door, isn’t that an expression of art? In that sense, our very lives are our canvases.

I recall vividly my first exposure to what I think of as real art. I was in my early 40’s. It was a traveling exhibition of the Armand Hammer collection, displayed at the local university where I lived, in a town without an art museum or galleries. Tickets were sold in advance and people waited in line patiently for hours to get in. I remember standing in front of a portrait of a man by Rembrandt, my vision blurred with tears, totally overwhelmed because it was so perfect, so old, so alive. I was in awe that a human being could paint something so exquisite, and that it remained so vivid hundreds of years after its subject had died and turned to dust. Of course, I was probably also awed simply by the fact that it was a REMBRANDT. I was not totally ignorant, after all.

So is something art because someone says so? Because it’s placed in a museum? What about a urinal, hung upside down and renamed “Fountain” by the artist? According to Wikipedia, “In December 2004, Duchamp’s Fountain was voted the most influential artwork of the 20th century by 500 selected British art world professionals.” To me a urinal, no matter whether you hang it upside down or sideways or wear it on your head, is not art. But it was to Duchamp, and apparently to a lot of other people who know more than I do.

Is photography art? Most definitely. Of course, not all photographs are art, any more than all paintings are considered so. When it comes right down to it, art, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. And perhaps also in the eye of its creator.

The image below is one I took on a recent  autumn walk. It was just a photo of a found object, as most of my photographic subjects are, but for some reason, it stuck in my mind. What if I give it a name that connotes some of the layers of metaphor that have been tickling my brain?


Now is it art?

Do I consider myself an artist? Yes, I do. This is a new discovery for me. I’m not a Rembrandt, nor an Ansel Adams. I’m not a professional artist. But I am an artist, nevertheless. Only, now I use a camera instead of a crayon.


Learning from Other Artists

Our lesson this week in the Find Your Eye course required us to go somewhere and view some live art. The real deal . . . an exhibit, a gallery, anything other than on a computer screen or in a book. We were to take notes on what we saw, how we felt about it, what we felt drawn to or repelled by. Then, back to our photojournals, to write about the experience, and what we can learn from other artists that can be applied to our own art.

So on Sunday, I set out. First I visited a local historical museum, where I found a number of portraits from the 18th and 19th centuries, along with a display of new abstract paintings and charcoal sketches by a contemporary artist. Then I headed to a nearby town where I chanced upon an exhibit by the local Art Guild, and visited a few small galleries.

My reaction to most of the historical portraits was to wonder, did people really look like that then, or was it just the artistic style and fashion of the day that made them look that way? Sloped shoulders, pinched faces, pot-bellied gentlemen and stiff-necked women . . . none of them looked like happy people, but then, life was probably pretty hard in Early American New England. Or perhaps it says more about the skill level of the itinerant, self-taught artists who painted most of them. One exception was a portrait of a very handsome young man with beautiful eyes, who reminded me of a picture of Lord Byron that I fell hard for as a teenager.

The piece at the Art Guild that stood out for me from among the pretty oils and pastels was a photographic digital composition. I know that will sound strange to those who have read my previous comments about digitally altering photographs in post-processing, but in this case, the piece had been made by creatively combining separate photographic elements into a totally new composition. It was intriguing, humorous, an impossible composition that was startlingly realistic. I wouldn’t want to live with it, but I enjoyed looking at it for quite a while, admiring all its details and technical brilliance.

The work that I was most drawn to (aside from that one digital aberration) tended to be either impressionistic or extremely realistic, and depicted simple elements of land and sea and buildings, both interiors and exteriors. There were few if any people in them, and the mood was one of serenity. There was, for example, a large watercolor of a rock balanced upon two other rocks, with a single blossom on a tall stem rising up above them against a clear sky.

What I don’t care for are series of canvasses covered in apparently random splashes of discordant color, with pretentious titles that, to my eye at least, have no relation to anything on the canvas at all. I have seen abstract art that I think is beautiful, but not on this outing.

What I learned from this expedition is that the kind of art that appeals to me most is actually a lot like the kind of photographs I take. (Or is it the other way around?) Below are a couple of examples from my inspiration file.


Bloom where you’re planted

I enjoyed my gallery outing and look forward to repeating this exercise soon.