“I like art,” is possibly the least controversial statement that one can make. The difficulty comes in how this appreciation manifests itself in one’s life.
I am a museum person. Somewhere in between the statement “I like art” and “I purposefully seek out art at museums” lies a line that some people will not cross. And while an argument can be made that art isn’t (or shouldn’t be) made for museums, I am not so ideologically rigid that I believe that museum visits should be rejected out of hand. In fact, I recognize and even appreciate the fact that, in order to see some of the masterpieces that are available for public consumption, a museum is the only place one can go. This position can be a little daunting for my travel companions, some of whom see museum trips as on par with viewings at funeral homes.
Add to this the fact that, in this digital world, while in the midst of the silicon revolution, mediums such as paintings and sculptures can seem both quaint and anachronistic. These are the mediums of a bygone era, dinosaurs in an era where even film is now seen as “old-fashioned”.
So why do I go? Why do I consume and consider these mediums? It’s not because they are important (even though they are), or because I feel obliged to in order to feel as if I’m a well-rounded person. I do so because these works provide insight into both the artists, as well as the cultures in which they were produced. As I get older and gather a deeper appreciation of history (which I’ll explain in a different post), that insight that art supplies can be critical to understanding a “bigger picture”. That insight is another data point in understanding what it was like to be alive in Venice in 1500, Amsterdam in 1650, or Paris in 1875.
Additionally, when I view several works of art, patterns emerge which sometimes speaks to some historical meta-narrative. For example, the Impressionist movement is, in part, the result in a change of technology. Paint became more transportable, once the craft of making paints became more industrialized. Once paint became easier to carry, artists left their studios to develop their works outdoors. Figuring this, and other similar bits of information, has allowed me to understand various movements better.
This “understanding,” as nebulous as it may be at times, is addictive to me. It’s akin to solving a puzzle. It’s what keeps me opening new books, as well as going to museums.
It doesn’t always work this way, as sometimes what the artwork conveys is complex and not always apparent. There are also times when the insight speaks more to who I am than to what the artist’s intent was. But this is a feature and not a bug. In fact, artwork that teaches me something about myself is far more important to me than one that speaks to its era.
Why do I like art? Because it teaches. The ability to learn what it teaches, and acknowledging the challenge in that process is something I’ve come to appreciate in my life.