It’s all in the eyes

Manhattan-20120617-00028-700x525Visited New York city this weekend with the family. I’ve always been attracted to its spirit and energy. This time  however, I didn’t feel much of it. Maybe because it is so hard to distinguish the tourists from the actual New Yorkers (maybe because there are more tourists than New Yorkers). I don’t know. I felt a bit disconnected.

For the first time we went to visit some touristic spots like the Liberty Island and the top of the Empire State Building. It felt like vacation, quieting the mind and tiring the feet.

We visited the Gugenheim museum for the first time and besides the slight rudeness of the people who work there, I was also disappointed by what we call modern art these days. International abstraction. One yellow rectangular panel next to an orange rectangular panel. One solid blue canvas. Various lines and spots in a limited palette of uninspiring colors. “Untitled,” or titled “Painting no. 135.”  Apparently that is some of the greatest art our modern artists could produce. I felt cheated and sad. I consider myself sensitive to the power of art. I am no connoisseur, but I am a lover of art. I expect art to transport me, to make me feel or make me think. I expect art to evoke and divulge something. What am I supposed to feel or think in front of a blue “Untitled” canvas ? Did the artist feel or think anything while handling that paint? Allow me to have my doubts. I feel entitled to be skeptical when I see no thought, no feeling, no skill, no time put into art. Considering how much pressure I see in the book industry, how much work I know goes into creating something that might capture the interest of the mind and hold the heart captive, I wonder why the same standards are not applied to other arts? I felt almost offended to have to look at something that is held in such respect to be hung in a museum and that for me, however, seems clearly devoid of any value. You could say that I am stupid and I don’t get it, but I still think that the definition of art must be really stretched to include a yellow and an orange panel placed closely together. I will try to do some reading and become more informed on modern plastic arts, but even if I find out that there is a point to some of it, I still feel that this exclusivistic trend (where you have to become an expert before you can enjoy a piece of art) is a faux pas and such a pity. Such “art” is unnecessary and it will always remain so, I can predict (no, the avant-garde or before-its-time argument is not acceptable).

So, yeah, it looks like I am not a lover of modern art. I do need to educate myself, but really, I feel strongly that art should have an instant effect of some sort on its audience. This initial effect should be only a starting point for a more complex chain of reaction which should culminate into an experience of ecstasy or catharsis. What do you think, am I completely wrong here? Should I just accept my plebeian status and limited understanding of the “high arts”?

Critic and Poet: an Epilogue
by Emma Lazarus
(Because I saw a sculpture representing her on Liberty Island and because the poem seemed vaguely relevant here.)
No man had ever heard a nightingale,
When once a keen-eyed naturalist was stirred
To study and define–what is a bird,
To classify by rote and book, nor fail
To mark its structure and to note the scale
Whereon its song might possibly be heard.
Thus far, no farther;–so he spake the word.
When of a sudden,–hark, the nightingale!

Oh deeper, higher than he could divine
That all-unearthly, untaught strain! He saw
The plain, brown warbler, unabashed. “Not mine”
(He cried) “the error of this fatal flaw.
No bird is this, it soars beyond my line,
Were it a bird, ‘twould answer to my law.”

 

6 thoughts on “It’s all in the eyes

  1. I am so envious you got to go there. I’d love to – though I’d want to go with someone who knew the place well – one of those elusive New Yorkers. But I was thinking about what you wrote – the difficulty to distinguish the locals from the tourists; I think in a city such as NY the locals are themselves tourists if only in a slightly longer vacational way…

    1. Yes, you are very right there, Rachel. Many of the New Yorkers themselves are probably more or less just visitors for a longer time. And I am noticing that you avoided any comment about the second part of my post, which makes me suspect that you have a different opinion but are too considerate to start a debate here. What do you say we do the debating privately? 🙂

  2. Haha – no slinking past your detector! We can debate in private but I really think that the point of art is that it isn’t didactic – at least not intentionally – but that it is open to interpretation and shouldn’t have any function other than to provoke thought. You don’t have to like/appreciate or whatever anything you aren’t drawn to – there’s enough to go around! There’s so much art that doesn’t concur with my sensibilities but, as you’ve noticed, I probably wouldn’t mention it!

    1. Yes. Art doesn’t need to be didactic. But it does need to provoke thought or emotion or, preferably, both. It is also true that just because it didn’t provoke my thought it doesn’t mean everyone remains unmoved. Not at all. I do think that for me the exhibition was poorly done. It should have provided at least some background about the artists and their process in order to make the art more accessible. What is the point of provoking a thought that is completely out of your control? I don’t know. For some reason I feel that art should be accompanied by a message. Just provoking the thought, no matter what that thought might be . . . well, I guess that is not bad either. We need our thinking to be challenged at times. And yes, Rachel. You are very wise. There is enough to go around. Not everyone can like everything. I have a very logical, linear thinking, and art many times comes from a very different place. I might be handicapped here, which is very sad for me.

  3. Haha – no slinking past your detector! We can debate in private but I really think that the point of art is that it isn’t didactic – at least not intentionally – but that it is open to interpretation and shouldn’t have any function other than to provoke thought. You don’t have to like/appreciate or whatever anything you aren’t drawn to – there’s enough to go around! There’s so much art that doesn’t concur with my sensibilities but, as you’ve noticed, I probably wouldn’t mention it!

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