Wednesday, September 21, 2016


Fountain, Duchamp, 1917
Tate Modern's collection & image
It turns out that our intentions, whether making or viewing art, are what make the art.  Two hundred years ago (!) Immanuel Kant philosophized that in order to appreciate art, we have to detach our emotions from the viewing of the work and think and look critically at the formal elements of the art.  If we know that what we're looking at is art (and this is not always obvious these days), then our approach and our response to viewing the work is different than if we assume it's an everyday object.  Perhaps we thought the Duchamp urinal, titled "Fountain," was just left out temporarily while the plumber installs a new one and plans to haul away that dirty old fixture?  No, we saw it in an art gallery or a museum or in an art history text, so we knew that despite Duchamp's cutting edge use of the ready-made so easily confused with banal real life, it is art.  We thought philosophically (or were asked to) about the difference between art and the everyday object and the impactful idea of synthesizing the two.  Even "Duchamp described his intent with the piece was to shift the focus of art from physical craft to intellectual interpretation." (quoted from Wikipedia)

A new study by Dutch scientists explores this emotional connection to viewing art versus everyday life, and the finding correlates with Kant's theory.  Quoted from the lead researcher Noah van Dongen (Erasmus University, Rotterdam):
“This work suggests that when we expect to be dealing with an artwork, our brain responds differently than when we expect to be dealing with reality.  When we think we are not dealing with reality, our emotional response appears to be subdued on a neural level. This may be because of a tendency to ‘distance’ ourselves from the image, to be able to appreciate or scrutinize its shapes, colours, and composition instead of just its content. We know that our brains may have evolved with ‘hard-wired’ mechanisms that allow us to adjust our response to objects depending on the situation. What this work indicates, is that Kant’s two century old theory of aesthetics*, where he proposed that we need to emotionally distance ourselves from the artwork in order to be able to properly appreciate it, might have a neurological basis and that art could [be] useful in our quest to understand our brain, emotions, and maybe our cognition.”
Yay, art could be useful!
(laughing out loud to myself)

Here's the link to the article I read on Science Daily's site:

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

I suspect most people...

I suspect most people feel similarly to Victoria Coren Mitchell, read article here, upon considering the opportunity to visit an art gallery.  She speaks frankly about the drag of standing in a gallery and thinking, "now what do I do?" or "What am I supposed to think about?"  (I'd read the article now....  It's not long, and I had a good laugh, so there's a bonus!)

These are the questions, among other frustrated comments that I've heard spoken with close friends and coworkers upon viewing art or discussing the meaning and purpose of art.  Obviously there's this cultural importance of art for which there must be a venue.  (Must there be a venue?)  I think we can at least agree that art is critical for the creative and expressive nature of the human mind, specifically some human minds that really go there (know what I mean? out there).  Of course, the out there art, just letting it all hang out, makes us feel something - perhaps disgust, surprise, regret or perhaps delight, relief or compassion, etc. etc.  I imagine that for some, it is the sudden confrontation with inexplicable human emotion that makes us dread art viewing.  On top of that, the feeling of being stupid - that most westerners fear - because we have no idea what this artist (creatively out there) or artwork is conveying.

Totally ripped this image off the original article in the Guardian.
Well, here's what I'll say to that:  Go ahead and feel whatever sudden and strong feelings come up.  Never mind judging your self or anyone for having feelings.  Allow yourself to be curious about it like you would as you wake up from a vivid dream.  As for having no idea and fearing being the stupid one that has no intelligent remark upon viewing art - oh, get over it.  Allow yourself to learn something or just not know.  There's something totally human about not knowing and as buddhism points out, not knowing is sometimes the only way to know.  Revel in the freedom of having no pretense and no presupposition.

If you haven't any interest in attending art galleries, I don't blame you.  Unfortunately, there is an off-putting stodgy feeling in many art galleries and other art venues.   However, I do hope you know an artist or two, or spend a lot of time in nature, or are creative in some way yourself because it's the terrible/wonderful aspect of death/life and ugly/beauty that can tune us into the bitter/sweet reality of our unique human experience.