Welcome to my Art Appreciation page. I hope to share with you my observations on the nature of art and artists, and my beliefs about the beneficial power of art. I also will include written quotes from artists past and present, and more art history.
I read once that artists live in a different reality than what we normally call the 'real' world. To artists, the world of images or forms, or ideas and feelings, is more "real" than the nuts and bolts world. I would agree, from my own experience. I think that serious artists live with a "cosmic" sense - that is, consciously or not, they are aware that galaxies and universes, both in macrocosm and microcosm, are spinning and traveling in space, while we humans go about our daily business. This gives artists the necessary perspective of the dreamer, to take the 'long' view of reality.
It was previously thought that humans painted as long ago as 50,000 years, as there are caves in France and Spain with drawings of animals and hand prints almost that old. In South Africa, however, a drawing has been found in a cave that has been dated to 70,000 years ago, and evidence of pigment-making tools and the pigment red ochre has been found in Africa which puts the beginnings of art much further into history - from 100,000-350,000 years. (At this point in prehistory, homo sapiens had not even arrived - this means that a close relative to us, our precursors, may have been the ones who first painted.) The first abstract pattern (of diamond shapes) has been found from 75,000 years ago. No one is sure why the cave images were painted, incised, and sometimes formed from pigment blown through a hollow bone (a primitive airbrush), but speculate that they were for spiritual and/or hunting purposes. There is evidence to suggest that in long-ago caves, there were "sacred concerts" consisting of primitive music and simultaneous painting rituals. Over the millennia, the place of art in cultures has changed many times; but I think that a spiritual connection with art remains for many of us, artists feeling it especially. Nature doesn't allow much superfluous behavior - the fact that many artists are still born among us testifies to me that it is a fundamental and preliterate human activity that we need to express our humanity, our being alive, that it is just as important as food. It is food for the soul.
It is easier to see this in music, which is so accessible to all of us, and so important to us. We may not all be conversant with, say, classical or world music; but we all grew up with, for example, rock music. We have a collective understanding and knowledge of its evolution, and as a result, we often judge as a group whether a particular song or artist is "good." My favorite example of this is at a concert, when one musician will do a solo during a performance, and if it is inspired and skillful, we all know it, and applaud spontaneously together. Because of its power to move us and express our deepest selves, music is very important to us, and because of its ubiquity, we are all familiar with it, and we are knowledgeable about it, confident of our judgment.
To me, art has the same power, but because it doesn't have the same accessibility as music, many people are unaware of this. In America, many school systems have reduced or eliminated arts programs due to budget concerns. And because of the inaccessibility, people are not knowledgeable about its history, nor confident of their judgment of its quality. To me, this is a terrible tragedy. I think many people are intimidated by art for this reason; and also skeptical, even suspicious at times, thinking it might be a scam. Modern and contemporary art particularly call forth this response, which is sad, because there are many artists of the 20th and 21st centuries who have eloquent and insightful, and stirring and moving visions to share with us. I plan to share some of those artists with you.
To continue the analogy with music, we are often not shocked or offended by the contemporary sounds music has given us, though it can be argued pretty persuasively that much of it is not what could be considered 'good' music in a music academy. Singers don't sing in classically trained voices; instruments play sounds that don't resemble anything in a classical orchestra; songwriters don't compose like Beethoven or Mozart. And often, musicians seem to be deliberately trying to be as outrageous as possible - and usually, we love it! And we love the music! It often defines our lives, whether 40's swing, 50's rock'n'roll, 60's expressiveness, 90's rap, or hip-hop.
We love the music because it expresses US. It is us - and even though we know that it is not "good" - we also know that it is GREAT. The fact that Bob Dylan "can't sing" is really irrelevant. As he said himself, he is not a musician - he is an artist. We don't want to hear Beethoven as much as we want to hear the Stones, Bob Marley, or Beyonce, because Beethoven, though great, is not of OUR TIME. It is not now - in America, in the 21st century - it is not US. And different aesthetic criteria apply now. We know Jimi Hendrix was a great, serious musician and artist; we judge him by our knowledge of the history of rock music, and its roots in the blues. Because we know our rock history and all his precursors, his music does not sound off the wall to us; he came from a long line of musical continuity and influences.
A similar situation exists with visual art, although I should point out that serious art, like serious music, is often expressed on a more profound level than that of much "pop" culture. Visual artists have a history of movements and influences, since the beginning of time. We can no longer paint like Rembrandt, because we are not of his time, though we may love his work. Artists develop new aesthetic criteria also, to meet the needs of their time. They may not 'draw correctly.' The work may not be 'beautiful' in the old-fashioned sense. Their work may not look like anything seen before; it may be an 'earthwork' - art that is made totally of natural elements. But its value lies in what it expresses to us. The 'outrageousness' of modern or contemporary art exists only out of the context of art history. Perhaps ironically, since the early 20th century, modern art has been much influenced by ancient, or 'primitive' art, as has some music. Are we seeking those selves of long ago, from the concrete enclaves of now? Unfortunately, since art is not on the television very often, or even taught in schools as much, people have to go out of their way to learn about art history, and even then, where do they start? And how many have the time?
Art has progressed to the point of conceptualism and beyond, where the work of art is not visual, or even tangible, but an idea. This notion is not really new - Plato also wrote that the idea of a thing is more "real" than the thing itself. But all serious art movements and ideas have a rationale, and a validity, in art history; and the strongest ones have the power to move and enrich us. In 20th century art, there are also, as in music, movements and individual artists who seemed to be deliberately outrageous, like Marcel Duchamp, and the Dadaists. And in the 1960's in America, the Pop artists reflected what they were seeing around them, the new consumer culture, some with tongue firmly in cheek. It is perhaps the same outrageousness in contemporary art that exists in music - the why of this is not easy to answer. Perhaps it lies in the unprecedented megadangers of our age - nuclear weapons, holocausts, environmental forecasts of doom. Or maybe it is the unbridled exuberance of being alive NOW!
Many of the more recent conceptual and installation artists develop their work in a brand new way, where the idea behind the intangible work is often a poetic and striking one, that causes the viewer to rethink their assumptions, or express a cry for the environment, the human spirit, or man's inhumanity. Christian Boltanski comes to mind. It is said that film is the major art form in the 20th century - that it has the biggest impact in people's lives. Just think about the powerful effect Schindler's List has had on the world - a pure work of art that was created out of pure love and expression, not out of box office expectations.
Modern and contemporary art are seldom seen on TV, or in the written media. But it is an interesting, vital saga, and I can't wait to start sharing it! Stay tuned!
(Note: Some art movements were formed by artists organized to promote their shared beliefs; often these movements, like Futurism in the early 20th century, would write a manifesto expressing their credo, and profess a collective aesthetic philosophy and style. Although the Surrealists also wrote a manifesto, the styles of individual artists associated with Surrealism varied widely. Other movements, like Impressionism in 19th century France, were a somewhat looser confederation of artists who came together because of certain common aesthetic principles, and the opportunity to exhibit their work collectively. Again, the style of individual artists varied, from Degas to Monet. Still other movements were not really movements at all, not being organized officially, but were instead either loosely associated artists, or even artists who came from different times and places, who happened to share a similarity of style or way of thinking. Examples of these movements would be expressionism and post-impressionism.)
We live in a world of sometimes brutal speed and pressure. Without the humanizing influence of art, people become more desensitized and alienated. What is difficult for an adult to deal with becomes impossible for a child. I'm thinking of the series of school shootings, for example. Art has the same effect on humans as nature - one gets an appreciation of the beauty, fragility and preciousness of all creation, including ourselves. And of the interconnectedness of all life. Without this spirit, corporations can deceive consumers about the hazards of their products; create defective cars and other products that take human lives; leave toxic waste near schools and neighborhoods, and not seem to have any sense of accountability or human feeling. Art is a creative, not destructive, activity, and soothes the savage beast with its only aim to enrich, extol, cry out, or joyfully be alive. Its side effects are gentleness, generosity of spirit, appreciation of other cultures, innocence, bliss, sensitivity, industriousness, earnestness, goodwill and understanding, for artists and viewers. Another main good that the arts provide is meaning: meaning for those who make it, including children and young adults; meaning for those who view it. The arts show us the meanings in the world around us - what to make of the tragedies, the violence, the grief, the evil, the beautiful. The process of art-making and the meanings inherent in the best work help us find meaning in life, when sometimes there seems to be no meaning - in poetry, films, visual art, music, dance - whether it be Riverdance, the Vietnam War memorial, Beethoven symphonies, Schindler's List, the show Hamilton. We see the great value of learning and expressing our cultures, bridging gaps, inspiration, understanding, reverie and political action.
It is estimated that 1% of visual artists are able to make a living from their work. Most are not making money - they're doing it because their genetic makeup precludes not doing it - they have a vision to express, and will sacrifice everything to express it. Many have full-time jobs, and paint/sculpt nights and weekends, and even driving down the highway, and also work on their career activities - exhibitions, galleries, etc. This is a 7-day-a-week proposition, often with no material gain. There were many years when I was happy to break even in my expenses for materials, framing, etc. So the idea of a scam is ludicrous.
Another misconception about art is that it exists mostly for those with the economic means to buy it. Quite simply, art is for everyone - not an elite. To be an artist only takes sensitivity, maybe some training, and a vision. Most are not born with this vision - it develops gradually with working. And it is a being rather than a doing - I find that I am looking at the world as one gigantic painting - everything is colors and shapes - not labeled objects with defined names and characteristics. I get impulses to create from in my car, at the supermarket, at the dentist's office. It is an ever-present consciousness. Which explains the spaced-out personalities of many artists.
Impressionism: A painting movement of sometimes varying styles which began in mid-19th century France, including such artists as Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, Degas, Morisot, Cezanne (in his early years), and the American painter Mary Cassatt. The group practiced plein air painting (working from life mostly out-of-doors), wanting to capture modern life in a spontaneous, direct manner. Impressionism also at times included breaking up the picture surface into small dabs of broken color, rather than blended, smooth surfaces, which the viewer would merge together when looking at the painting. These painters were more concerned with color than with form or tonal values.
Post-Impressionism: Not really a movement in the usual sense, but a description of painting which followed Impressionism in France, and was influenced by it, but evolved beyond it. Post-Impressionism generally existed in the 1880's, included artists such as Cezanne, Gauguin, Seurat, and Van Gogh, and tended to be less naturalistic than Impressionism, seeing the picture surface more as a flat plane than an illusion of depth. This thinking led to the 20th century notion of painting as essentially colors and forms on a flat surface, rather than the imitation of objective reality. This idea also led to early 20th century abstraction. Seurat and others began the Pointillist movement, which carried the color and optical ideas of the Impressionists to an almost scientific extreme, consisting of tiny dots of color.
Symbolism: A literary as well as a visual art movement, in the 1890's in Europe, particularly France, which included the painter Odilon Redon. A group of painters was influenced by Symbolist ideas, and also carried further the ideas of the Post-Impressionists, such as Gauguin. Painters influenced by Symbolist ideas, calling themselves the Nabis (French for 'prophets'), included Pierre Bonnard and Vuillard. The Symbolists were also influenced by Art Nouveau (with its curvilinear quality), and carried forward the notion of painting being colors and shapes on a flat surface, rather than "objective" reality. There was also a tendency toward dreamlike imagery, such as Gauguin's and Redon's.
Fauvism: Also a movement of loosely connected French painters, of the first years of the 20th century, which included Matisse and Derain. The main emphasis in Fauvism was on color - bright, free use of arbitrary (independent of objective reality) color (les fauves meant 'wild beasts,' a term coined by those critical of the paintings). The shapes were also not confined to objective reality, and showed strong exuberance of spirit.
Cubism: A new structural and spatial organization in painting (and sculpture), begun in France following Fauvism, in the first years of the 20th century, by Picasso and Braque, which was inspired by African sculpture and Cezanne's paintings, among other influences. Cubism dealt mainly with space - the disintegration of traditional illusionistic space in art, and the beginning of pictorial space, which again was based on the notion that a painting is not an illusion of three dimensions, but has its own two-dimensional reality which overrides the depiction of depth. There was also a tendency toward flattening images as geometrical shapes, and the notion of multiple perspectives, as opposed to the previous one vantage point of Renaissance space. Other artists, such as Gris and Feininger, followed Picasso and Braque, and spelled out their cubist theories in writing.
Abstraction: Abstraction (in painting and sculpture) was not really a movement per se, but an idea which took root in the 1890's in Europe, came to fruition around 1910, and continues to be a viable tradition today. Some of the first abstractionists included Kandinsky and Mondrian. They believed that art does not exist to depict external reality, anymore than music exists to imitate the sounds of nature. Abstract art modifies or distorts objective reality (nature), as opposed to "non-objective" art, which refers to art which exists independently of, and is not based on, external reality. Kandinsky's essay, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, recounts his passage from more conventional painting to his ideas on the higher ideals of abstract art.
Dada: Dada was a European precursor to Surrealism, and included artist Marcel Duchamp. The dadaist movement extended to both visual art and literature. It was an anti-movement born in the second decade of the 20th century, and affected by the disillusionment after World War I. Dadaism was out to shock, to shake up conventions, to be anti-art, to question the very definitions of art. The most famous example of dada is Duchamp's entry into the 1917 Society of Independent Artists exhibition in New York - a 'found' urinal displayed with his pseudonym of "R Mutt." (Duchamp was way ahead of his time, and is considered the first exponent of conceptual art, a movement of the late 20th century.) Dada expressed itself in the forms of collage and sculpture, among others.
Surrealism: Some of the members of Dada went on to create the Surrealism movement of the 1920's, which was also a literary movement, in Europe. Surrealistic painters had wildly divergent styles, but some of the elements they had in common were: the effect of the subconscious and dreams in art; the importance of the element of chance in art; the idea of an absolute, or 'super-reality' in art. The most famous exponent of Surrealism was Salvador Dali; other Surrealists were Joan Miro, Max Ernst, and Rene Magritte.
Abstract Expressionism: A mainly American movement of artists who came together informally, Abstract Expressionism began in the 1940's, influenced by European abstraction and Surrealism. Many emigre artists from World War II Europe and before came to America and became major influences on artists here before, during and after World War II, including Max Ernst, Mondrian, Arshile Gorky, Leger and Hans Hoffman. Major figures of Abstract Expressionism were Willem de Kooning (who came from Holland in the 1920's), Jackson Pollock, Barnett Newman, and Mark Rothko. Stylistically, there was a wide range, from the large drip paintings of Pollock to the geometric abstraction of Newman, the soft color field paintings of Rothko, and the painterly work of de Kooning. Common elements included a certain spiritual nature of the work, the elements of chance and the unconscious, and the absence or distortion of objective reality. The movement was at its height during the 1950's; several sculptors can also be considered abstract expressionist, such as Reuben Nakian.
Expressionism: Mainly centered in early 20th century Germany, with loosely connected painters, Expressionism was also found in other places and even other times (James Ensor, Edvard Munch, and Van Gogh are considered to be three precursors of Expressionism). It can be considered to be the German version of Fauvism. As well as being a movement, expressionism is also a characteristic applied to any art which holds as its primary focus the expression of emotion, as opposed to a description of external reality. Stylistic tendencies include bright or even garish color, sharply linear, or dark and brooding quality, black and white woodcuts. Kirchner and Emil Nolde can be characterized as Expressionists.
Pop Art: Also an American (and non-organized) movement, Pop is well-known as a late 1950's, early 1960's art movement. A reaction to Abstract Expressionism and the new consumer culture in the United States, Pop's early figures were Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns and Andy Warhol; Claes Oldenburg is a Pop sculptor. Pop artists generally wanted to make art that was 'cool' as opposed to the strong emotion of Abstract Expressionism; that avoided Abstract Expressionism's tendency to serious artistic individualism to instead divorce the artist's personality from the work. Everyone is familiar with Warhol's Soup Cans, and other images taken from advertising and the contemporary world. Styles of Pop ranged from painterly to hard-edge, but generally had a certain 'deadpan' attitude.
Op Art: A relatively minor (and not organized) movement of painters, Op art came to prominence following Pop art in 1960's America, although artists had been creating works using optical effects since the 1930's. It focused on a strictly visual exploration of the inter-relatedness of colors and other optical effects in painting, often resulting in striking and dramatic effects that also were illusionary in terms of depth (optical illusion). The best known of the Op artists was Victor Vasarely; Josef Albers is sometimes considered to be an Op artist, but I feel his work, though dealing with the interaction of colors, was more of an intense lifetime study of color, rather than a superficial interest in optical effects.
Earth, or Environmental Art: This international movement began in the 1970's, and used the natural world as its material and content, generally making large 'earthworks.' Environmental artists work as individuals, rather than as part of an organized art movement. Coming from Europe to America, Christo and Jeanne-Claude are the best known environmental artists (they worked as partners until Jeanne-Claude's death). They create temporary works that are a combination of natural and manmade, often involving large numbers of workers to construct their projects. Examples of their work: In Japan and California, a series of large umbrellas in the landscape; a miles-long and tall running fence in California; a "wrapped" building in an urban setting, such as their covering of the Reichstag in Germany. There is a conceptual, or idea, sense to their work, and generally a poetic and art-for-all quality. Other earthworks consist of natural materials, such as large rocks, arranged in patterns over a large and perhaps isolated area, such as Spiral Jetty by Robert Smithson.
Conceptual Art: Not an organized movement, Conceptual art can be thought to have begun in the early 20th century with Marcel Duchamp of the European dada movement (see above), but its official genesis was the 1960's. Basically, conceptual art places its emphasis on the idea of the work of art as its primary identity, rather than the object itself. This idea is as old as Plato, meaning that the idea of an object is more real than the actual object (the chair can be destroyed, but the idea of the chair is eternal and immutable). There is perhaps a contemporary addition of the notion that art is not a commodity, as so much else in our society is, but rather a non-saleable idea. Conceptual art, as is much art in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, is an international movement, and comes in many forms and mediums, sometimes being an act or acts done by an artist, that may or may not result in a physical object. Conceptual art can sometimes be very cerebral in nature. Good examples of conceptual artists are Ann Hamilton and Christian Boltanski, whose work contains poetic and powerful ideas on the nature of reality.
Installation Art: Not a movement per se, installation art consists of very large, mainly three-dimensional, collections of objects and forms, often filling a large gallery or museum space. Entire environments can be created (or re-created), often evocatively. One of the first installation artists was Kienholz, an American artist first known in the 1960's, and loosely connected with the Pop artists. He created large three-dimensional groupings of objects, such as smashed-up cars, etc., with an air of violence, or perhaps death, but also an element of tongue-in-cheek. Some of his later work contained elements from such institutions as prisons or state mental hospitals, perhaps with social comment in mind. Another installation artist beginning in the 1960's was George Segal, who made white plaster casts from real people, and placed them in contemporary mundane settings, such as a man putting letters on a movie marquee, reflecting the poetry of the mundane. Artists since have created many site-specific installations, meaning that the work was conceived to fit physically and aesthetically in a given area. One contemporary sculptor and installation artist is Judy Pfaff.
Minimalism: Not an organized movement, minimalism began in the 1960's, predominantly in the United States. Its main thesis is "less is more," perhaps a reaction against the highly emotional nature of Abstract Expressionism. Large sculptures and paintings consist of bare geometric forms - squares, cubes, sometimes in more complex arrangements, and often limited in color. Donald Judd's minimalist sculpture consists of large, heavy cube forms. Although it can be a sterile form of expression in the hands of an artist of limited depth, Judd's cubes express a forceful finality and strength, and are an expression of our times in terms of the lessening influence of the natural world, and more influence from our industrial, geometric environment; and within this ascetic parameter, minute variations in treatment, composition, and color can become much more apparent and meaningful. The painter Agnes Martin worked in an austere geometric abstraction, which is also luminous in muted color and expression.