Friday Memoirs – Art and the Meaning of Life

Kitchen Painting - Olive Oil 001a 6x6 oil on gessobord - Dave Casey - TheDailyPainter.jpg
 Kitchen Painting – Olive Oil 001
©2014 Dave Casey
6×6″ – oil on gessobord
Click here to go to the Daily Paintworks auction page

This evening I was eating a quick dinner at my desk and watching some artist videos on YouTube and I came across one that got me to thinking. It wasn’t the art or the artist themselves, but the opening of the video that did it. It opened with a quote from Antoni Tapies that said, “Art should startle the viewer into thinking about the meaning of life.” I really only had one reaction to that quote and it was just one word. Why?

First off I guess we would need to ask Mr. Tapies what he considers to be art, because I can think of a ton of art that wouldn’t get me to thinking about the meaning of life in any way. And having stopped by a gallery of some of Mr. Tapies’ art I can say without hesitation that his art didn’t get me to pondering any deep meanings of life either.

I would never criticize another artist or their art in the negative because I feel that there will always be someone out there that will appreciate it. I may not, but someone will. However, I will question an all-encompassing idea that art should be one thing or it should be another, no matter who was making the comment. Even if Da Vinci had made that same comment I would feel just as negatively towards it.

I have seen incredible paintings of roses that I would consider great art, but they don’t evoke a search for the meaning of life in my heart. Drawings by my children and hung on the refrigerator when they were young were considered by myself to be art, but I don’t look for those pieces to be hanging in the Louvre anytime soon.

Sometimes when I see art that looks like the artist was trying too hard to make a statement, I am left with nothing more than a desire to move on to the next piece. Some artists are born to stir up the hearts of the viewers, causing feelings of deep uncertainty, while others are moved to paint something of beauty that will be pleasurable to look at. It might just be a simple bowl of fruit or a portrait of one’s cat.

Some of the great artists of history have created art that evoked such responses and then the next week produced a piece that was just a fine piece of art. Van Gogh could create a painting like Starry Night that caused people to write songs about it and then turn around and paint a vase full of sunflowers. A painting of a vase of sunflowers by Van Gogh, while pleasing to the eye won’t get me to thinking about my existence.

An artist said, many years ago, “it’s art if I say it is.”  And this has been the battle cry of the modern art movement ever since.  It has resulted in many installations of piles of garbage on the gallery floor or canvases painted one solid color and all this was labeled “art.”

I have to disagree with the above sentiment.  What defines what is and isn’t art is tied much more closely to another saying that have been spot on for centuries, ever since Plato said it, “beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder.”  I have been saying for years now, “art is in the eyes of the beholder.”  

Just because an artist stands back and says his rotten banana on a pedestal is art, doesn’t mean I’m going to agree with him.  I’m going to say it’s garbage and suggest it be tossed into the nearest garbage can.

Art is what I decide it is to me.  When an artists’ work finds an accepting viewer then the artist has done their job. If it evokes feelings of the majesty of our lives, then so be it. If it just gets us to stop for a few minutes and admire the beauty of the artwork and maybe even pull out our wallets to buy it, then the artist has done just as valid a job.

Enjoy art for what it is. Not for what it isn’t. 

About D Glenn Casey

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