Art is a contradiction for many people. On the one hand it surrounds us all the time: most houses have at least one painting hanging on the wall, even if it’s just a reproduction; and one art form in particular – photography – seems to be everywhere around us. On the other hand, art is regarded by many as mysterious and rarefied, something for that special group of people: the “artistic”. Ask someone to say something about art and the most likely response you will get will be, “I like it”, “I don’t like it”, or an indifferent shrug. Why is this? Well, maybe many feel ill-equipped to say something intelligent and don’t want to appear foolish. So, it’s easier to build up a barrier, in the form of myths, between themselves and “Art” (with a capital A). Here are some of my favourite myths:
- “I don’t know much about art but I know what I like.”
Actually, I don’t know what I like and I don’t want to. I want to be surprised. “Liking” means judging, and judging – too easily – gets in the way of enjoying. In fact it’s possible to enjoy a work of art without liking it.
- “Art should be beautiful.”
Some people (e.g. art historians and critics) disagree – citing, for example, much of Goya’s work or Picasso’s Guernica – but I say “All great art is beautiful; it’s just that my concept of ‘beauty’ is broader than most people’s.” Sometimes the best way to appreciate “difficult” art is to keep exposing yourself to it. If it’s got something going for it, some lasting quality, it will probably grow on you.
- “To properly appreciate art you need to know the historical background.”
Actually, background information can sometimes take you away from appreciating an art work. There are two types of information about an artwork: intrinsic and extrinsic. My advice is: get as much of the intrinsic information first. For example, you might read, or hear a tour guide say, “Rembrandt was a miller’s son.” So what? Does that really help you to understand Rembrandt’s art?
- “I’m not artistic.”
This usually means, “I can’t draw; therefore I have no right to understand art.” Sure, if you’re not a painter you probably wouldn’t know whether the artist used rose madder or vermilion, but that’s just the mechanics of painting. I can’t play the violin but I can enjoy and appreciate a violin concerto.
Do artists make art for other artists? No (well, mostly not).
- “Modern art is rubbish; a child could do it.”
There are two responses to this one:
a. You’d be surprised how hard “easy” art is to make.
b. One of the breakthroughs of modern art (basically from the 20th century on) was “unlearning” the sophistication of adulthood.
“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” – Picasso