What’s to Understand?

“I don’t understand art”. Every once in a while I hear that. Sometimes its when I say I’m an artist or when the spouse of someone, who has clearly been dragged to a show under duress, feels compelled to say something to me as that someone looks at my pictures. I guess I don’t quite know what’s to understand. You look at a picture and either it appeals to you or you think it’s hideous and you have no idea why someone would hang it on their walls. It can be that simple.

Of course there are always those who want to make everything complex. Several things come to mind when I think about this. A number of years ago I spent a lot of time working with teachers on using computers. Like most people approaching something new, they thought they needed to know everything about the computer before they could use it successfully. Most people using the phone don’t know how it works but they are perfectly comfortable using one, putting aside for a moment cell phones with more features than a space shuttle. I think the same analogy works for art. You look at it, if you like it, what more do you need to know?

I also am reminded of what my Uncle Jimmy told me when I first started painting when I was in high school. “Art is a very selfish business, if you like it, it’s good, you can’t listen to what everyone else says.” Now, of course there are instructors who can help you refine and improve, but his basic premise has held true. I really learned that after I had painted a barn with a tree and a tire swing in front. It was a snow scene. I had one person tell me they liked the barn but not the tire swing. I had another person tell me they liked the tire swing but not the barn. Yup, that was proof Uncle Jimmy was right. If I listened to both of them I would have had a painting of snow. What a keeper that would be, especially here in New England!

Going to museums as frequently as I can, I enjoy reading about the artists and their paintings. There is always more to learn about Art. That should not effect the enjoyment gained from simply looking at a picture. I have had sales of my work because the landscapes have reminded people of different places. I had a little watercolor of a stream I had painted that a man purchased because it reminded him of where they use to vacation as a child. Was that what I had in mind when I painted it? Of course not, but it evoked an emotion in someone, that made it a successful painting. How much do you think he cared about what paper I used, or what technique I used?

So, once again I ask, what’s to understand? The next time you look at a piece of art, you be the judge, forget about the art critic who can name more artists, styles, techniques, etc., than you. Moreover, think about what Uncle Jimmy said – “if you like it, it’s good”.

1 thought on “What’s to Understand?

  1. julie susanne

    I really liked that you addressed this. It is one of the barriers to more people enjoying art. I wonder where they/we got the idea that there was something that had to be understood beyond our own opinion? Perfect: "…but it evoked an emotion in someone, that made it a successful painting"


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