Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Connecting the dots

I admit it. Sometimes I just don’t get it.

Try as I might, and I do try, there are some people I will never understand. We have a permanent disconnect mentally, emotionally, something. And more often than not, that pains me. I truly want to understand, and I’m quick to lay any failure to do so at my door.

And then there are the basic mechanical or factual issues that simply do not compute, no matter how hard I try. In nearly all cases, I’ve been a fast learner, never had to spend much time studying in school, and I think that may have been to my detriment. If a new topic doesn’t come easily, I get impatient. Until 2006, when I went back to college at age 48, I’d never really learned how to study. It wasn’t necessary. One pass through a book, one sufficiently detailed explanation by a competent instructor, and I was set. There have been isolated stumbling blocks, i.e., electricity, although I somehow aced high school physics even with a yawning gap of knowledge; music, in spite of my ever-so-patient son’s efforts to explain the simplest notational ideas; and, as I was reminded recently during movie night, modern art.

Hubby and I often spend an evening with a movie, usually Netflix or from the library. I hate paying outrageous ticket prices to sit in a noisy theatre, forced to watch the commercials I mute on television at home followed by a stream of trailers for movies light-years away from the kind I came to see...and don’t get me started on the price of concessions! Because of that, we rarely see anything first-run and our to-be-watched list contains a number of older films. Last weekend we finally got around to Pollock, largely on the basis of Ed Harris’ reputation as an amazing actor.

As expected, Harris’ performance was incredible. He so thoroughly inhabited the persona of self-destructive genius it was frightening at times. Much of the supporting cast was equally stellar, from Marcia Gay Harden as his driven but long-suffering wife, to another favorite, Amy Madigan, as Peggy Guggenheim. Pollock’s early work, when they were influenced by Picasso’s cubism, almost makes sense to me. I catch at least a glimmer of something familiar in the bold colors and odd shapes.

But I guess I’m too much of a realist to appreciate his later work. The drips and splashes that make up what I’ve seen in museums as Pollock masterpieces do not impress me. I don’t get it. I need to see something on the canvas I can recognize, not just color (which can be nice, but it’s not art). Impressionism is fine; a painting doesn’t have to be factual. I love most of Dali’s work, but his pieces are like a puzzle to be deciphered. Pollock’s are...a mess.

I’ve been told, of course, that I feel that way because I simply don’t understand art, that I’m unschooled. Bleh. Snobbish comments like that irk me. I get the same reaction to my arguments against opera and much of what passes as ‘literature.’

I’ve long believed art is a unique form of communication, of looking at the world in new and different ways and sharing that perspective with an audience. At what point does artistic freedom which fails to communicate something become a failure in itself? I can throw paint on canvas or words on paper to express myself to myself, to free buried emotion, etc. – all those reasons we are told to release our inner creativity. But I realize that much of what comes out of such moments is of value and of interest to no one but me, nor should it be. I don’t share those eruptions. They expend any inherent ‘value’ in allowing me to emote, and that’s enough. Vanity presses and self-staged art shows cater to the ego behind those moments, not to any artistic integrity that I can see. But society encourages such things.

And from the other perspective, how often does the media trumpet a former masterpiece worth untold millions (that’s another whole argument!) suddenly deemed all but worthless when it’s discovered to have been painted/written/composed by an unknown? Has the color changed on the canvas, or the words morphed on the page? No; but without that imprimatur of celebrity, few are interested.

Over the years I’ve visited many museums, read many, many books, listened to all sorts of music and wondered how much of what passes for art is labeled as ‘good.’ As a writer, I struggle to produce ‘good’ pieces, yet I know the bar is constantly moving, always tilted in some mysterious direction by unseen hands. If a work of art is so avant-garde that it must be meticulously explained (not just shades of meaning), does it miss the mark? Is transmission without reception communication?

Or maybe I truly am the one missing the point. Maybe art isn’t supposed to communicate, or be understood. Maybe it just is...something. Words matter to me; precise definitions and shades of meaning give flavor and nuance to my work. In that respect, ‘art’ escapes me.

I still don’t get it, but I’m willing to learn. If only I could pin it down.


  1. Somethings truly aren't to be understood by anyone but those who produce them. In my opinion, I highly doubt that those who deem it necessary to explain, long windedly, someone else's work that those like yourself don't "get", actually have any clue what the artist was trying to convey or felt while they produced it. And isn't it to be left for the 'reader' to decipher the message that each piece is speaking to them? We all see parts of the universe from our own perspective, it is up for interpretation, left to your imagination, that's what life and all its nuances is all about. Take a deep breath my friend and just take in what you can, at your own pace, for your own enjoyment. Just what I've taken away from your blog today. My father always says that people tell you what they want you to hear, but you hear what you need to. It's not always one in the same.

  2. Wise words, Lori - thanks for the reminder to just 'be'!


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