What is it about art that gets people so excited? This is the kind of question that is very hard to answer as only personal experience is valid as a response. Rather than try to talk for the masses, I would much prefer to say what gets me excited about art. I will admit that it doesn’t happen often enough for me, but it most certainly happens. It also happens with antique furniture, but in a very different way. Both, however, ring the aesthetic bell when they are right.
I have to admit to having taken a number of art courses. I am not an artist. I could draw in a barely passable fashion, but there was no inspiration to my work. I did, however, love to look at art. Janson’s, “History of Art: The Western Tradition”, was my bible and I learned every painting in the book. That paintings could be so many things—craft, allegory, decorative, colorful, eerie, suspenseful, sad and joyful, and much, much more, was fuel to my understanding.
Of course, the range of feelings that you can get from a painting is singular in one way, but widespread in others. How do you define that the image that resounds so purposefully, a feeling that no one else can know? The truth is that all of us get these moments in our own way. What is so extremely interesting is that paintings can be part of fads and fashion. How can any style of art go out of fashion? As unbelievable as this might be, it happens.
I can remember more than a few moments where I have been deeply affected by a painting. An exhibition of Edmund Burra’s work at the Tate, Rembrandts in the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., Poussin in Edinburgh or the incredible exhibition of Pissarro and Cezanne at MOMA. There are many more of those moments, but in each case, I felt that the paintings were more than their substance or their subject, that somehow the artist transcended everything to show me something quite singular.
These are, of course, name painters, acclaimed by many and obvious choices. However, I name these paintings and these moments not to the exclusion of other artists, but simply because no one knows the other art I might refer to. There are a slew of artworks that I feel very strongly about, people that few have heard of, and the feeling of excitement is no less valid for their relative obscurity. This is, in my opinion, the very greatest thing about art.
I am not a connoisseur of contemporary art and such moments are rarer for me in that medium. I somehow feel that contemporary art has debased itself, relying on message over craft. This criticism is too broad to have meaning save for myself, but I have heard it often enough that I wonder just where, as a broad movement, art will step next? That doesn’t matter either as most artists aren’t concerned with anything but their own work Thank God for that!