Speaking of Art

Many years ago, I sat enjoying a Mystic Pizza at the Mystic Pizza in Mystic, Connecticut with two colleagues.  We were there as part of a group defining sonar concepts for the next generation of Navy ships.  Three engineers.   Somehow, the subject of art came up via, I think, Jackson Pollock.   Anyone can splash paint on a canvas, one of them said.   They both were very sure that they knew real art when they saw it and Jackson Pollock wasn’t it.  One of those colleagues was my good friend, Ron, who has a relative who is an art school graduate.  For her senior project, he’s told me, she glued a bunch of Barbie dolls to a board then painted it all pink.  That’s not art.  Yet her art school, which should know, said it was.

As an engineer who’s tried to create art, I often found myself standing alone in a discussion defending something like Mark Rothko’s, Red, Orange, Tan, and Purple as art, just as Marc did his 200,000 franc white canvas in Yasmina Reza’s famous theater piece, Art.  My colleagues seemed to have two criteria for dismissing Pollock’s work.  The first is perceptual.  It doesn’t look like anything or it is not pleasant to look at.   According to this view, art is in the eye of the beholder and there are large buildings called modern art galleries that are filled with stuff masquerading as art.   The second is technical.  Anyone can paint a canvas all one color, they might say, or glue Barbie dolls to a piece of plywood.  In other words, if anyone can do it, it’s not art.  I was at a local art show some years ago looking at some drawings.  Placed strategically among the drawings was a small sign.  Apparently, the artist had tired of hearing, I could do that … the sign read, BUT WILL YOU?  Touche.  I would add: CAN YOU REALLY?   It’s my experience that people like my colleagues can’t create impressionistic or modern art because their left brains just can’t be that free.  And it’s not just a matter of difficulty, either.  I’ve been able to copy some of Picasso’s exquisite line drawings but they are unlikely to spring from my pen as my own creations.  I’m inclined to give works the benefit of the doubt … if the creator of the work intended it to be art, it’s art, whether I like it or not.  And whether it’s good art or not by whatever standard you choose to apply.  How many creative people have never tried to draw or paint because they are afraid that they won’t be good?   How many potential artists spend their life on the sidelines saying, Oh, I just can’t?  To them, Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, says, Let yourself be a bad artist so you can become a good artist.  I really like that.

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4 Comments on “Speaking of Art”

  1. Cheryl P. Says:

    I would never pass judgement on “what” is art. I can only say what art I like or dislike. It’s all subjective really. It wouldn’t seem like an all black canvas would appeal to people but I am sure it does. Each to his own.

    • oldereyes Says:

      I’m the same way. I walk through modern art galleries and see lots of work that seems, well, too simple but I know it’s harder than it looks. And in the end, how important is my opinion, except to me of course.

  2. Yvonne Michlele @Photecstasy Says:

    I concur. I’m a fan of Jackson Pollock, and love abstract expressionism. As an artist myself, I had someone close to me say how easy it was to do abstract art. So, I took 2 canvases, my paints & brushes to his house… and we spent the evening on his back patio painting. The next day he told me “It’s not as easy as I thought.” He hasn’t picked up a paintbrush since, but has requested that I paint him a large painting for his living room. I can’t paint unless I feel deep emotions, so I haven’t done it yet. I applaud your statement “can you really” and the artist’s comment “but will you” try to be an artist. There is much more than meets the eye. I would like to see these individuals attempt to reproduce a Pollock. That’s something I wouldn’t even dare to try!

    • oldereyes Says:

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Yvonne, particularly since you agree with me 🙂 . I love it that you actually tried the experiment with a skeptic friend.


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