Do You See What I See?

Continuing the discussion of why my son doesn’t like art, or more seriously, why we like some art and not others…

Why does everyone have such different tastes in art? The experience of an art piece seems like a combination of the inherent qualities of the piece itself as well as all the experiences and inner dynamics of the viewer at the moment the two come together.

Forgive me for dipping into some arcane philosophy, but this brings to my mind the Phenomenological school of thought founded by Edmund Husserl in the early 20th century (yet another interesting cultural influence raising it’s head around that time). He proposed that the essence of a thing is not found in some external object (the thing as distinct from us) but in the relation of the object and the perceiver. He said that we “constituted” objects by perceiving them. This also reminds me of one of the major concepts of quantum theory, which is that “objects” only come into existence when we become conscious of them.

One of the challenges of this school of thought is that of “intersubjectivity” – how do we know we are all referring to the same object if the object’s essence depends on our unique perception of it? Well, maybe we shouldn’t be so sure of our shared experiences – have you ever stood next to someone at a gallery and listened to them describe a piece of art and thought to yourself, “Man, are we looking at the same piece?”

At some level, I guess we’re never really seeing the same thing as anyone else.

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!

The “Bear Trap”

In my last post I had a shot of my wife and her art studio. One of my visitors keenly noted what he referred to as a large “bear trap” in her garden. And, indeed, it did look like one was there ready to spring shut! So I thought I’d alleviate any fears people might have about the safety of our property by showing what that was.

Years ago we made an “art trade” with a local metal sculptor – a painting for a dragon. He resides happily and peacefully in the garden near Susan’s studio, though lately he has been getting a bit overtaken by the plants growing up around him! Next year we may have to relocate him to a new home…