spring garden, photograph
“Art is like a butterfly fluttering in a meadow. Analysis of art is like a butterfly on a pin. Each has its value, but we must always be aware of the difference, and what is gained or lost.”
– Darby Bannard
I like this analogy a lot – we can learn so much about a butterfly from observing it in the meadow and equally as much in the laboratory, as a specimen. It’s just that we learn completely different things. Both have their place.
But, as Bannard points out, we need to bear in mind the differences and understand the limitations of each. Neither offers the complete picture and confining oneself to one side of this equation or the other denies us a deeper understanding of each.
Over the years I’ve enjoyed classical music – often I will hear a piece and love it without knowing anything about it, who wrote it, when it was written, the musical structure underlying it, etc. I can appreciate it as is. At times I’ve studied music and music history and the understanding I’ve gained in doing so can deepen my appreciation of a piece and make me like it even more. On the other hand, if I really don’t like it, knowing more about it will not cause me to suddenly change how I feel. What I gain is understanding, not necessarily enjoyment.
For me the approach that works best is one of balance. In my last post, I referred to a review of my work in which a theorist seemed only able to look at the work from a theoretical and historical perspective. I do appreciate that viewpoint but it must be balanced by a perspective which enjoys the work on its own merits.
So I do like to learn about art theory and history, but don’t rely on them for my enjoyment of the arts – rather I look to them to further the enjoyment my direct experience offers me.