Subjects and Objects

“Every good painter paints what he is.”

– Jackson Pollack

My friend Gayle raised some eloquent and thoughtful points in my last posting so I thought I’d continue the thread a little more. I am most grateful for such contributions as they make me think more about things I do not understand – such as “what is art?”, “why do I do it?”, “how should I place value on it?”. Well, that list goes on and on. And Jerry Dodrill offers another perspective, one in which art isn’t different than what else one does with passion in their life. There are so many vantage points from which to consider these questions.

“Is art a pretty picture or the lived experience of a moment’s exchange with the ground of being, the energy field from which all comes?” Gayle asks. These certainly seem to be on opposite ends of some spectrum, don’t they? Does one have more value than the other? Centuries ago, art was meant to represent or imitate life – it’s ability to do so gave it great power, to the extent that in some cultures (Judaism, Islam, etc) it was forbidden or at least looked at with suspicion. Heck, the 2nd Commandment is about “image making”, giving it priority over activities like murder and aldultery. Over the last 200 years, simple imitation has grown to lack such impact, at least in most Western cultures. Art has become more about expressing what is inside the artist than imitation of the external world.

So how do we today view the work of a representational painter who has most skilfully recreated a still life in tremendous realistic detail? Is this a work of art? Surely it must be – it has been done artfully and is beautiful to look at.

Yet it is also a “pretty picture”. What does the painting say about the experience of the painter or what they are trying to express. It seems hard to see a connection there, we can’t tell much about the artist at all. On the other hand, this artist may be having a profound experience in creating that piece. The intensity with which the objects must be studied, the patience and discipline with which the painting is created, the concentration required may have all led to an almost ecstatic meditation inside. Does the internal experience of the ground of being need to be expressed so that others can see it and perhaps share a little of it, or not? Whose experience is involved in determining the artistic merit of a piece?

2 responses to “Subjects and Objects

  1. Hey Bob, I’m loving the posts – I saw you had a blog via Susan. I had to wait until I had some time to sit down and read them. I love your insights.

    This post struck a note with me. I have this idea, mostly about contemporary art, that it should contain both a good idea or subject and high craft or skill to be considered a good work of art. A “pretty picture” or a work with high craft falls flat without a good idea. On the other side of the fence, an image that has a great idea, but is low in craft, falls apart and often looks like a mess.

    I think the best art falls somewhere in the middle, containing both a good idea and good craft.

  2. Thanks Ben!

    I understand your thought process about what elements are needed to make something a good work of art. Good craftmanship and a good idea make sense – the challenge, especially with many more contemporary art, is to know what “good” is.

    How to evaluate the craftmanship of many of Jackson Pollack’s “splatter” paintings? Or how good is the idea of an ultra-realistic still life painting? It doesn’t seem very profound or even that interesting. Yet both should be candidates at least for the title of “good art”.

    And it presumes that art to be good must be something others can appreciate – what about someone ahead of their time? Van Gogh was not well accepted while alive but later people changed their view of his ideas and craftmanship. Was the art not good initially but only later?

    There are some interesting things to consider about art and conventions in society. Abstract art can only stand for something if the conventions of society allow for it – since in many cases the art doesn’t look like anything in the world, the degree to which it represents anything, it’s “idea”, depends on what society agrees it can represent.

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