This has been one of the harder weeks I’ve experienced in a while. Not in a long while, as I experience hard things often, but it was harder than I expected. As sort of a relaxing retreat for MOCSA staff members, today we all went to the Nelson-Atkins museum for a tour and lunch (which was excellent, surprisingly!). Though the tour was a bit too hurried for my liking, I found myself more interested in art than I have been for a while.
I was talking with an old (and wonderful) friend of mine about art, and how, generally to be considered intellectual and “hip” you have to have a deep appreciation for art, especially modern/contemporary art. However, her and I both discussed how often, it’s hard to even identify those pieces as ART, and really who gets to decide what is art, and what isn’t? Alex mentioned this piece he saw, which was just this urinal flipped upside down, which he thought was interesting art. But is that art, or is that just a goddamn urinal flipped upside down?
However, I think what I realized today, at the museum is that art is a reflection of culture. I mean, REALLY just an image of culture (or in many cases, the counter culture) of the time. Much of the Biblically inspired art I find so–uninspiring. I can’t find another word, and maybe it’s because the cultures that created that art were the beginnings of Western oppression on entire nations, because it reflected such narrow definitions of Christianity, of religion, that I am immediately turned off.
However, we entered the Chinese collection of the Nelson, and good god, is it beautiful. What a fascinating, unique and beautiful culture. They essentially have a reproduction of a temple in there, and some of the “religious” statues (because I don’t know that Buddhism is a religion as much as it is a way of life) are just so–well kept, so intricate, so amazing. I think maybe that’s what art is—when a piece gives you a sense of awe. Except that I don’t see those pieces as ART (and I think this comes down to the importance of language)—I see them as elements of culture, anthropological finds rather than art. I know that’s a bad definition, because it implies that art is for aesthetic quality only, whereas anthropological artifacts are simply for cultural reference, although I just stated that art is a reflection of culture. WHOOPS. But, I think I’ll keep my definition that way still.
So much of Western history/culture/background/art is surrounded by RELIGION and CHRISTIANITY, and in a lot of way SUFFERING, that I don’t find it appealing. I don’t find it also appealing to see a goddamn still life of fruit. And contemporary art—I don’t like to pretend to know meaning in a set of colors or blocks or lines, and if there is meaning, and I mean profound meaning, isn’t there a more efficient way to express that? So then, is it true that the culture we come from (our upbringing, religion, etc) also affects how we define “art”? Why are words and their meanings so important? Ugh, and I hate how damn pretentious I sound just by asking these questions.
UGH. RANT. However, it has gotten me interested in reading up on art history, and I plan on buying an art history textbook soon (half price books, WHAT). I would at least like to learn the historical context behind the pieces—grasping at understanding what these pieces did mean, or could mean, and people say they should mean, when really they’re whatever.
Anyway, this is the one piece I cannot get out of my mind, and maybe it’s art or maybe it’s not, but I did like it. Unfortunately, the only picture I could find of it, is some ridiculous flickr picture of the painting in the Nelson. Anyway, here is it.
And a description of the painting from a NY Times article, “Art: Middle-Class Satire from William King”:
The largest of Neil Welliver’s new Maine landscapes is ”Late Squall,” a view of snowy moors running up to a distant mountain that is also veined with snow. This gray- toned canvas appears to be painted in a pointillist style, but the dots turn out to be myriad tiny snowflakes. In a smaller version of the work, the flakes are scaled down to pinheads. Welliver is a punctilious craftsman. Indeed, it’s no surprise to learn that he begins by making an on-the-spot oil sketch, which he enlarges as a charcoal drawing. This he transfers to the canvas by means of pouncing, a laborious form of tracing, and then, starting at the top of the canvas, paints his way down to the bottom.”
Regardless, I imagine I’ll be returning to the Nelson-Atkins, soon. Hopefully with lots of newly acquired art history information. Or whatever.