An Appreciation Of Art
This is in continuation of my last posting on Van Gogh. We always think that a painting has to be beautiful to be a piece of art, like landscapes by Constable or a painting by Rembrandt with their perfection in lighting and well defined shapes. There is technical perfection and we marvel at the skills of the artist. That is “we always assume that all that is beautiful is art, that what is not beautiful is not art, and that ugliness is the negation of art. This identification of art and beauty is at the bottom of all our difficulties in the appreciation of art.”
|Constable's Salisbury Cathedral|
What would we say about the ‘Peasant Shoes’ or ‘The Potato Eaters’ of Van Gogh. There is nothing beautiful about these paintings in the literal sense. What about ‘Wheatfield with crows’ with its ominous feeling. It is only when we look at these paintings that we realise that these works were in a sense a liberation of the personality. There is something deeply intuitive about these paintings that is given expression. I am reproducing here a painting by Edvard Munch titled ‘The Scream’
|Edvard Munch's Scream|
Munch's anxiety, as portrayed in "The Scream", was in large part due to Munch's agoraphobia. The main figure is in a vast expanse of open space, and feels overwhelmed.
You find that the artist has resorted to distortions in the painting so that the reality depicted immediately creates an emotional impact, which a perfectly painted picture on the same theme could not have brought out.
Like I have written in my blog on Van Gogh ‘He moved away from actual representation of things to representation of the artists subjective emotions. The works of expressionism are marked by violent colours and exaggerated lines.’ He had moved away from the influence of the impressionists as he found that there style of painting did not really provide an outlet for the build of emotions within him.
Impressionism on the other hand, if you take the paintings of Claude Monet, lays emphasis on the changing effect of light on the subject and visible brush strokes. This is very much seen in a series of paintings he made on the sunset called ‘Impression sunrise’. It is from this painting that the word for the movement, Impressionism has evolved.
|Monet's Impression Sunrise|
These are the two movements in art that moved away from the historical and the religious themes of Medieval art and the Renaissance, Romanticism and Realism. They provided the bridge for crossover to the later Cubism, Surrealism and Modern Abstract art.
I have just touched only the tip of the iceberg as it were, while trying to bring out the subjective nature of art appreciation. What is beautiful varies from individual to individual. Learning to build on the art forms we already know can develop our aesthetic understanding.
Art is an offshoot of the evolution of the human mind, which has passed through various stages in the history of mankind. The significance of history as per Hegel in his ‘ The Phenomenology of the Spirit’ is that ‘the understanding of any aspect of human life must be concerned with its history, its evolution, its genesis, or its roots, rather than with the empirical observation of it as it is now’. The history of art is therefore filled with so many movements which run parallel to the various periods in human history.
One can only marvel at the spirit behind each work of art, even though we ultimately evaluate and interpret works of art based on our own perspective.
There is so much to be said, but I would rather end with the words of Claude Monet, “It’s on the strength of observation and reflection that one finds a way. So we must dig and delve unceasingly.”