Published on: February 25, 2014

“I could do that!” is a common theme overheard when some folks judge the quality of artwork.  My typical reply: “perhaps you could, but did you?”

On the other side of the coin are those who appreciate artworks requiring such skill that they could never ‘do that.’  A viewer feeling that they could or could not produce an object should not be thought of as a reliable gauge for what is ‘good’ art and what is not. 

Related to this, we also find those that judge art based on whether or not they understand it; whether they can apprehend what it is the artist was trying to tell us.  These are generally folks who feel daunted by modern art and question their own psychological abilities when contemplating ‘meaning.’  While one may be able to recreate the work, what does it mean?

Many of our Museum patrons fall into the latter category.  They appreciate the Grohmann Museum collection because it is wholly representational.  One can readily understand what is depicted.  One knows what it means. One can ‘wrap their arms (and heads) around it.’  This is special.

To those I say, we’re here for you and we appreciate your perspective, but please don’t sell yourself short.  By that I mean, while it is great to view and consume representational art for what it tells us, do not diminish your potential appreciation for all art, the strictly representational to the more abstract.

That is, just as ability should not dictate taste, we should not always assume there is some larger message in modern art or that a special skill set is required to have an appreciation for what is on display; sometimes it is aesthetic response only.  One’s engagement with art is a dialogue, and oftentimes what the viewer brings to the discussion is equal to if not greater than what the artist was trying to ‘say.’

My evidence for this includes a couple of anecdotes from two artists who I have been associated with, both modern expressionists with a great deal of talent and ability.

First was a German painter whose exhibit I organized in the late 90s.  His works included a great number of barren apocalyptic landscapes with shadowy, unrefined human figures central to the compositions.  At his opening, one patron asked “with this one here of the two figures and the clouds, what does it mean, what were you trying to say?”  His response: “It’s two figures and a cloud, that’s all.”

Second is a friend and painter from the upper Midwest, an abstract expressionist know for his use of color, space, and material.  One of his compositions, a gold and blue abstraction, was a dazzling arrangement of form and line that was a real exercise for the eye.  I asked what the general theme or feeling he was trying to convey.  Dynamism? He replied “I like blue and gold together.”

This oddly sums up the point of this brief meditation: art can be appreciated on all levels, but most importantly do you like it? Not whether or not you could create something similar. Not what the artist was or wasn’t trying to say.  Not if you fully understand it.  No specialized skill set is required to view and/or appreciate art.

Some art tells a story, other works convey a feeling, still more resonate due to the viewer’s personal experience.  In our personal dialogue with art, all views are valid.  The perspectives offered by critics and reviewers, while informed and well-intentioned, are no more valid or objective than our own. 

But, really, do you like it?

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