Somebody famous probably said that art is subjective. I don’t know who it might have been and ultimately it doesn’t matter because while pithy, it has the added benefit of being true. Art is, therefore, in the eye of the beholder and it can literally be seen everywhere. As I sit here at my desk, typing on my Macintosh computer I realize I am surrounded by art, starting with my MacBook Pro. It is a technological work of art. Even if you’re not a Mac person, you must begrudgingly admit that Steve Jobs et al created a platform that has been copied and imitated by many others in the PC universe. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and art.
My coffee mug was handcrafted by someone who signed their name as “ag” in the clay on the bottom. There is a license plate in front of me, something I ordered showcasing the logo of my personal blog. It shouts at me all day long, urging me to live it out loud. It is graphic art. I am surrounded by books. Literary art. I am living in a desert contemporary home. Architectural art. Later this evening, I will cook something I hope will turn into culinary art, or at least be edible art.
Musical art. Cinematic art. Televised art. Fashionable art. Photographic art.
Art is everywhere and always has been. It stimulates our brain and our emotions, causing us to feel sadness or pain, joy and elation. It causes us to think, to contemplate. It allows us to revel in the wonder that someone created this masterpiece in front of me purely for my response. Art can change minds; it can incite people to riot. In 2005, when Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published a cartoon depicting the prophet Mohammed as a terrorist, there was rioting in the streets of Denmark. Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh was killed in 2004 after releasing a documentary about violence directed at Muslim women. In the 16th century, Italian humanists condemned the art of the late Middle Ages as gothic and thus wished for its destruction. Some of the most famous acts of art inciting violent destruction happened in the 1930s and 40s as Nazi Germany went about destroying cubist and surrealist art they decided was degenerate.
All art essentially consists of form and content. Form is concrete. Francisco de Goya’s painting El tres de mayo de 1808 en Madrid (translated to The Third of May 1808) shows the famous massacre of Spanish peasants and countrymen by French soldiers. It is understandably bleak, with somber colors from the earth along with a strong contrast of dark and light, a dramatic use of chiaroscuro. The painting exists on a huge canvas of 8’ 9” by 13’ 4,” and was created using oil paints and brushes. This is its form. Its content is what Goya intended to convey; his ideas. The massacre was an actual event; Goya wanted to record its horror and he was successful. It brings about a number of emotions including anger and disgust. I saw Goya’s etching of The Disaster of War, Plate 15 at the Met in New York. Its form, an etching on metal; its content, an execution. It evoked similar disgust and anger, and awe. It has stayed with me for 30 years.
Where do we find art? In our imaginations, in history, in the future. We find it right in front of us, in the granite of our countertops, the tile of my floor. In the graffiti on the walls of the city; the sunlight streaming down through the clouds, alighting the earth below in streams of possibility. We find it in characters, in people, in pets. It is the cave drawings of the earliest humans and the drawings on your refrigerator done by your kindergartener on Tuesday, the one you’ll save forever. It is subjective. What you love, I hate. But I can still appreciate its idea, its content, even its form. In other words one man’s art is in another man’s garbage can.
Wassily Kandinsky, the influential Russian painter and art theorist, credited with painting the first purely abstract works of art, once said:
“The spirit is often concealed within matter to such an extent
that few people are generally capable of perceiving it.”
Pithy and again, true. It means that even though most people won’t always see art and some may see rubbish, we should never stop looking and artists should never stop filling the blank space.
Lorin Shields-Michel is a writer, author and editor. She blogs daily at liveitoutloud.com, weekly at dwellable.com and bi-weekly at The Artist’s Loft. For more about Lorin, visit lorinshieldsmichel.com