Sunday, December 27, 2009

Fantasies of the Unconscious - The Art of Appreciation

I admit it - it used to bother me that I didn’t understand much about Art - especially the newer more "contemporary" forms.

To me “real” art was always these scenes of old - oils on canvas capturing a moment of intense human interaction - be it a man dying on a cross, a scene in an Italian marketplace, well-decked virgins dancing in fields of flowers or my favourite - the hand of God reaching out through the clouds to touch some naked guy (Yes, yes - I know its Adam).

You always knew what you were looking at and the main message was clear. If you take a closer look, you would probably be able to uncover more - some of the messages lying just beneath the surface which the artist had in mind.

Christian-themed paintings always had lots of hidden messages, be it a gesture with the hands, the play of light and shadows or the juxtaposition of the characters. Now that was Art - done by grand masters - powerful and timeless - created to inspire generations yet unborn.

Looking at some of the “art” displayed in Singapore's museums today … well it is not quite the same by any stretch of the imagination.

I don’t get a lot of it - and I’m sure there are a lot of people in the same boat - maybe they just don’t admit it. I’ve stood and watched people in museums looking at art. It’s all in their faces. Some show an almost instant connection with a bunch of metal pipes welded together and placed on a pedestal.

Others were more my kind of people … we look… we move around to change the angles … we read the little sign (dat’s no help!), we look again, we step back and quietly check out the other people with a “What the …. am I supposed to be looking at” look  on our faces. We seek out similar lost souls with the same blank expressions and we exchange silent, knowing nods to mean “Yeah I don’t get it too. Think we can get a refund?

Art shouldn’t be for just the connected crowd - those people who can make (or sometimes I think just fake) that leap of understanding and are able to derive some deeper ethereal meaning from some shapes on paper.

In my school art classes decades ago (which I failed miserably) it was called simply “Drawing Patterns” and the end products were probably a waste of paint and not all of it landed up on paper (ahh such fond memories).

But now someone draws squares and its called cubism which according to Wikipedia means “a 20th century avant-garde art movement, pioneered by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque”.

Okay so it’s got a nice-sounding name but to me it’s still just a bunch of squares with other random shapes thrown in for good measure - perhaps it will make nice-looking wrapping paper. I would need a cereal box decoder ring to try and fathom how this could possibly relate to the eternal battle of good versus evil or something like that that the artist was trying to convey.

But I’m learning slowing to appreciate art in all its forms - thanks in part to my patient art critic on one of our rare trips to the museums in which she takes great pains (quite literally) to try and explain what we are looking at and ignore that you-got-to-be-kidding-me look on my face.

I suppose therein lies the rub … art is one of those rare subjects that one can learn to appreciate its form and colour without necessarily understanding its intended meaning. As my little critic says … “Listen to what it speaks to you”. We may look at the same thing but each will come away with a different take on it. Once you “get it” - that there is no right or wrong in appreciating art, then novices like me can begin to relax and just soak it in.

I think a little light just went on in my head … so that’s why they call art “conversational pieces” cos no one really gets it or perhaps more accurately … different people will see it in different ways …

Maybe I should try and take up painting again … someone out there may be able to decipher some deeper meaning to my random blotches of colour … but then again, maybe not!

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