What’s the Point?

My 18 year old son told my wife and I (both professional artists) that he doesn’t have any appreciation for painting or music (other than the lyrics of Bob Dylan). He said he loses interest in any painting after 5 seconds – it’s all derivative, it’s all been done before, he said. What’s the point?

I was taken aback by this statement, as you might imagine. But I thought more about it and wondered. In today’s world, with access to so much information, most of us have seen lots and lots of art. Through books, museums, TV, the internet, magazines, art shows – we’re flooded with every imaginable style, medium, technique, subject matter, etc. So maybe it is hard to find anything truly original. I suspect 100 years ago it was much easier to be amazed by new art since most people weren’t exposed to much of it in their lives.

But even though I’ve seen so much art, I can still look at a piece of work from an artist and enjoy it, sometimes get really excited or inspired by it. Why is this? There must be something other than originality in it that we’re attracted to, though it has to have some level of uniqueness, at least in our own experience. And there must be something that makes us artists want to produce more art, even when we know that what we make is not completely new. Sometimes we even celebrate the influence others have had on us.

So why do you still like to look at art, in spite of the thousands and thousands of images you’ve already seen? What keeps you going? What is the point, for you?

By the way, I let my son know that when I was his age, I didn’t have much appreciation for art and music either and that I suspected there was some seed that had been planted in him that would sprout later in his life around art. I’m not counting him out yet!

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7 responses to “What’s the Point?

  1. I always enjoy your writings Bob, thanks for sharing. Let me offer a perspective from a 30 year old. When I went to the Nelson Atkins Museum a few weeks ago, I couldn’t have been more bored walking through the Victorian era paintings, even some of the Renaissance and Impressionist work. Maybe it’s something about traditional Western culture, because I dig Egyption, Asian, and East Indian art of this same period. Some of this art is very awesome of course, I just don’t get excited by it. The Post-Impressionists is the first group of artists work that I am attracted to. For me it comes down to when you remove objective style painting (using any images from life) this does create art that indeed has never been done before. Jackson Pollack, Basquiat, Matisse, Helen Frankenthaler, I think all of their work is very exciting. But they could not have made their work without those Victorian and Renaissance artists. Even Dylan had his mentors and influences, like Woodie Guthrie. He is building on something that already has been done. That’s how I see art, this evolution of creativity that is still happening. Wow. thanks for letting me ramble….. lol.

  2. I’m constantly asking myself why I like the art I look at. And it keeps changing the more art I look at seriously. My tastes change at any rate. And some of that has to do with my own current painting passions. If an artist portrays birds in a particularly powerful way, for example, I become intensely interested because that’s a theme I’m exploring and want to learn more about.

    What is your answer to your questions about looking at art?

  3. I suspect there are many factors that go into what each of us is attracted to. One is our own background and experience – just as this affects the art we make (as you just talked about in your blog, Ed – modernartquotes.com), it also affects what we’re attracted to. Part of that experience is what we’ve studied more in depth, as you point out Susan.

    I wonder if there are also inherent qualities in the pieces themselves that make them more likely to be appreciated. Certainly the skill level of the artist, perhaps subject matter, originality (which is mentioned above). Is there such a thing as Beauty (note the capital B!) that attracts us? Some independent, Platonic ideal of beauty that we all (or most of us) are drawn to? And I don’t mean beauty as in pretty, but a broader definition.

    Or is our attraction completely contextual, based just on our personal experiences and preferences?

    I don’t have any answers but it’s something I’m going to contemplate and say more about…

  4. You might not have the answers but you ask two really good questions..

    “…Some independent, Platonic ideal of beauty that we all (or most of us) are drawn to? And I don’t mean beauty as in pretty, but a broader definition.”

    “Or is our attraction completely contextual, based just on our personal experiences and preferences?”

  5. mmm… very interesting statement from your son;
    “Why do we look at art?” you ask; well, my gut response is “because it triggers an emotional response, a feeling pops out from inside of us;” whatever the feeling, positive, negative, we react somehow.
    These feelings just come, and we cannot control them.

    I think sometimes we are not ready for uncontrolled emotions, or already overwhelmed by so many (as in a young adult), that we choose to numb ourselves in certain areas of our lives. So we back up from art, or other emotion triggering things.

    But I bet it will be temporary… lots going on in his life right now…
    It also could be a way of separating from his parents which is healthy for him to do at this stage…

    Whatever it is, it has nothing to do with your art per se, which by the way is fantastic! I love all the different lines in this one, they work together so well.

  6. My wife expresses some frustration with the fact that I keep asking questions and not answering them! I think it’s easier to ask…

    So I appreciate all of your answers, such as the thoughtful one above. Given the way art taps into our emotions, I think you are right that at certain times we need to “regulate” our relationship to it, sometimes to protect ourselves, or perhaps to connect to something inside we want to get at.

  7. Asking questions and letting others to answers them is the socratical method, isn’t it? And it’s not a bad method at all…

    18 years old is usually an age of extremities and absolute beliefs (which used to change every month or so; or every year or so…I remember – I think – how I was at 18! o, la,la!)

    My children (19, 25 and 26) have little or no interest in what I do (Io anche sono pittore) only one of 3 is slightly interested… So, yes, I know what you mean…

    I think you kind of equivalate originality with novelty, with NEW… Sure, there aren’t many things NEW left to be done in art…It seems. After Picasso the destroyer and Duchamps, Mondrian and abstract and conceptualist minimalist etc. it seems nothing is left to be done… It’s like there is no more (art) history to be made… Well, in my opinion, to hell with art history! Sir Ernst Gombrich said it already: all there is are artists, not art or art history… All the currents, all the isms are an invention of the historians of art and art critics, in order the bore the 18 years old (and not only) out of their mind…

    I was 3 times in Paris and never went to Louvre. Sure, I would have liked to see SOME of the paintings there… or at the Orangerie etc. (I’m interested mainly in post-impressionnist but not exclusively)… But a huge museum like that gets on my nerves and I’m not ABLE to support ALL THAT “art”… It’s TOO much. You have to take it a few essential artist at a time… Because “originality”, in my opinion, is not something to do with art currents and isms but with the personality, with the uniqueness of every artist, real artist. We have to recognise it: there is a lot of crap out there! Good artists are rare, very good artists even rarer… And, of course, one could get discouraged and even disgusted by all that crap, with every “artist” crying from the rooftops he(or she) is the best… Give me a few hundred thousands $ and a good PR agent and I give you a reputation. Give me a million and I can give you a genius…

    But when the 18 years old will become old and maybe a bit savvy (if not wise) they will understand the futility of ALL human activities (politics and money, fame and sex (and – or – “love”) and then, maybe, they will see the “meaning” of a similarly futile activity and its results: art etc.

    Let me finish with Bukowski (sorry for the lenth, bob!):

    “The difference between life and art is ART IS MORE BEARABLE”

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