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art appreciation

updated tue 19 sep 00


Ray Aldridge on sat 16 sep 00

At 08:41 PM 9/15/00 -0500, you wrote:
> > This is an interesting analogy, but it fails to take into consideration
> > question of whether or not the Vietnamese friend is saying anything of
> > interest. He might be reciting laundry lists or discussing the latest
> > episode of "Friends." More to the point, art at its best is supposed to
> > universally understandable. I really don't think it's possible to teach
> > people to like art. Art appreciation classes are pretty useless to folks
> > who don't already appreciate art, in other words.
>Ray -
>Seems to me you missed the point. Art is never universally understandable,
>because to some extent it is always specific to the culture and the time.
>It is a language which must be learned.

Then why is it so easy for many of us to appreciate the Neolithic cave
paintings? The language that those artists spoke is lost, as are most of
the details of their culture, and yet the art speaks deeply without any
necessity for latter-day interpretation. Perhaps it is only marginal art
which must be explained to be appreciated. Don't get me wrong-- I don't
discount the role of education in enabling a more sophisticated
appreciation of art. Knowledge enhances just about every pleasure in
life. But I believe there is some essentially human quality in great art
that speaks to us over eons and across all cultural gaps. And in a
nutshell, this is why I'm not a great Picasso fan, because it's my
impression (and I could certainly be wrong) that his work was coldly
intellectual, and not visceral in the way that great art should be. It's
my opinion that his greatest painting is "Guernica" because in this
instance he moved most notably in the direction of the visceral.

> Once one gains an open mind and a
>sensitive eye, it is possible to appreciate art even when we do not
>understand the specifics of context and creation, but we will never fully
>understand it unless we study the culture of origin. I KNOW that I can
>teach people to appreciate art. I did it for years.

I think you can if they have that capacity. If not, not.

>Here's a short (I hope) story to illustrate my point, and one that makes me
>proud. When I was teaching art at NDSU in Fargo, Don Stowell, member of the
>State Arts Council and our Director of the Division of Fine Arts died of
>AIDS. Our &%$#@ State Governor Schaffer, wanting to derail the State Arts
>Council, appointed a Republican (no offense intended to Republicans) who was
>head of Food Services at NDSU. She had absolutely no experience with art -
>no understanding of it at all. But the Governor failed to consider that she
>would take the responsibility very seriously. For my last few years in
>Fargo she took art appreciation and art history classes from me, and for
>years after I moved to Tennessee I received postcards from her from all over
>the world with enthusiastic reports about her visits to museums and
>galleries. She became a serious appreciator of art. Made me smile.
>If art appreciation can only be taught to people who already appreciate art,
>where the hell to they learn to appreciate art in the first place??

I think it's at least partially genetic, an inborn trait. As to the
story above, I think that while you must surely have facilitated her
understanding of the subject, she must have had an interest in art to begin
with, however unformed (and uninformed) it might have been. You give her
insufficient credit, because many government functionaries would not have
made the effort to become informed, and I doubt you'd have made any great
impression on these folks even if you'd stapled their butts to a chair and
lectured them 'til you were blue in the face.

Of course, this is just my opinion.


will edwards on sun 17 sep 00

Mmmmm- I recently was asked to do a lecture for a local college in art
appreciation. I went in there thinking this was going to be E.Z.
Now considering I have been in front of many people over the years and cr=
now days are no more than a conversation with a friend, I had one heck of=
time with those folks for the first 10 minutes.
Here I was standing there with my box of goods next to me and about 30 pe=
looking at me with blank viods in their eyes. Finally I did ask how many =
there were majoring in Art? Not one hand was raised!
I took the ball and then ran with it and started a conversation about my =
in school and the boring sit throughs I has went into coma's over.
By the time 20 minutes had rolled around clay was in their hands and for =
next few hours we relaxed, let go and made some nice small hand pinched a=
coiled pots.
It still worries me that we are having art apprecaition where they are fo=
into it by qualifying themselves for the merits of it, but have zero inte=
in it now days. (Many, not all!) Entertainment seems to be the only way t=
o get
the attention of anyone that isn't specifically focused on Art as their m=
or having a background interest from the beginning. It plays a larger rol=
e now
than other forms of expression.
However once they get that diploma and a job and then a house and career =
will start remembering the art classes and look for artsy things on the m=
that make their world much prettier to live in. That is once they get tir=
ed of
hearing 'N Sync or some other group and regain the inner vision of creati=
wants instead of the wrap around sound systems and boosters that crank ou=
t the
jam over 300 watts at a time. But I in turn do find a student once in awh=
who has fully developed a love for visual art and will explore it like a =
learning to walk. That is the pay-off!


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