Eye of the beholder

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I’d like to go to the Louvre some time. On second thought, maybe not: http://thechronicleherald.ca/opinion/1142241-wong-shutterbugs-don-t-go-to-museums-for-the-art

A couple of interesting points in Wong’s piece. The first is the crush of people taking pictures with cellphones. As you can probably guess, that annoys the hell out of me. The insistence on photographic evidence of a painting the entire world already knows is absurd in the extreme. The whole reason to see it “in person” is to see it in person, not on the screen of your cellphone and certainly not on a friend’s Facebook page as you head off to your job in the morning in Canada.

I don’t hate modern technology or culture, but I’m starting to think I hate smartphones deeply.

Also interesting, though, is how wrong Wong is about the dearth of information provided for each painting. Tom Wolfe had some interesting things to say on the topic: http://www.amazon.com/The-Painted-Word-Tom-Wolfe/dp/0312427581/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1374149377&sr=8-1&keywords=tom+wolfe+painted+word

Wolfe’s critiquing modern art, and its emphasis on underlying theory. For example, a canvas with a green circle may not be understood unless you understand the theory underlying the artist’s decision to paint a green circle. Hence the painted word – the painting is no longer art, argues Wolfe, but art criticism; it should be produced as an essay, not a painting.

Wong isn’t quite falling into the modernist trap. Historical notes can make the experience of viewing art more interesting. But buy the guidebook, already, or use those silly smartphones to Wikipedia what you’re seeing – a better use for them than taking a photo.

Or just worry about context later – worry about telling friends what you saw later – and soak up what’s really there: a visual image.

Unlike Wong, I love art galleries.

Much of the modernist installation stuff leaves me cold. I don’t know why a steel spring hanging from the ceiling of a gallery is important, and I’m not that interested in becoming educated about it.

Not that I’m a traditionalist. I used to be. I used to like realism and think anything that departed from realism was lazy – an inability to do realism masquerading as a different style. And that may be part of the story. Some painters can’t do realism and do a different style instead. But my standard for what is art has broadened. If it has no function except evoking emotion in a viewer, it’s well on its way to being art.

I like folk art. I like the work of the masters, too, but I’ve moved more towards folk art. I kind of feel like realism, while requiring an incredible amount of talent, doesn’t make sense anymore. Realism existed to capture scenes that could not be captured any other way. I don’t quite understand painting something a photographer can capture in a flash (yes, I realize painting can capture an image differently than the way a camera captures it, but still…). Don’t get me wrong, art is personal, and I have immense respect for the technical skills of some past realists and some of those working today. I’m not disputing it’s art. I’m just not drawn to it.

I like folk art because it’s populist. It says to me that art is something we can all do and enjoy, not something that’s only for the talented or trained.

I still have respect for the great masterpieces, however. And I’m not immune to the excitement evoked by standing in front of a famed masterpiece, realizing this image you’ve known your whole life – that millions around the world have known their whole lives – is three feet in front of your face, so close you could reach out and touch it. (Give in to that urge, though, and your experience of art galleries will quickly become very negative.)

Placing a phone between you and that almost-tactile experience is just foolishness.

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