The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.
Robert Hughes, “the most famous art critic in the world”1, was often derided in his native Australia. We don’t appreciate, it seems, poppies taller than the average. His take on art was eclectic, his critiques either brutally derisive or unabashedly supportive; his prose powerful, elegant and always unapologetically intellectual. He was justifiably famous for his ability to strike a chord, even with naïve and unsophisticated art lovers like me.
By the time we have grown up, most of us have noticed that life is not perfect. Paradise, we’re told, is for the afterlife. That doesn’t stop us from trying to get a little before then, of course. Some of us do it by escaping, however fleetingly, into our imagination; aided and abetted by puppeteers – conjurers and magicians all – Artists in modern parlance.
Art, or the modern concept of it, has intrigued and baffled me ever since my first coherent thought. Art critiques and art appreciation classes in particular, set off alarm bells rivalling those Quasimodo used to ring at Notre Dame. It’s not that I doubt the sincerity of the artist or art expert teaching them. It’s just that putting a piece of art into words, as it were, trying to contextualise its meaning, fathom its sublime impact and gauging its cultural and moral significance, often sounds stilted, insincere or plain silly; unless the prose used to describe it is a work of art in its own right.
To clarify: Imagine that your passport, instead of a picture, only has a description of your face in it. Sounds crazy, right? Well, that’s because it is! You can’t describe someone to a stranger and expect the stranger being able to reliably pick that someone out of a crowd.
Art critique can never be more than a subjective hand me down. At best, it can help you along the process of your own personal discovery of the art in question. At worst, it ruins your perspective, your consummation with it, which always is or should be a deeply personal introspection. In a sense, asking what a particular piece of art means, is like asking a philosophers or Monty Python for the meaning of life. Neither will leave you any wiser, but at least you get a laugh out of Monty Python. So, attend art appreciation classes, if you must, but be alert to the possibility (if you can stay awake) that you may not be listening to an artist but a bullshit artist.
We have our fair share of gifted artists in Jacobs Well and surrounds; writers, painters, musicians, chefs, coffee roasters (they are artists to me!), as well as a sprinkling of the other kind, God bless them. Our intrepid artist puppeteers keep us from collapsing in a heap, often hanging by a threat themselves. One of the best and best known is tripping the light fantastic right here in Jacobs Well:
Donald James “Larger than Life” Waters!
“Contemporary Artist”, his website rather modestly explains. Truth is, he is a renowned Australian artist with considerable international success, and that’s no bullshit! I love the man, appreciate his art for the most part and adore some of it with an intensity unbecoming an old fart like me.
You see, when it comes to appreciating art, a classical education is not required! We don’t need the acerbic talents of a Robert Hughes to tell us what we like or what we see; to be moved by art, disturbed, uplifted, challenged, motivated and, most of all, renewed.
So when you look at a Donald James Waters painting or any other work of art for that matter, open your eyes as well as your mind, and be inspired!
1 Robert Boynton, New Your Times, 1997