Following on from my last post suggesting that art should be a conversation, a colleague of mine asked a helpful question: If art is about conversation and communication, who’s fault is it when I can’t understand what the artist is saying?
Communication always involves two parties – the speaker and the listener. As such, you won’t be surprised to hear that I think it’s probably both. Sometimes I think artists are deliberately obscure because it makes what they’re producing seem more significant than it is. But as the recipient of a piece of art (to use Lewis’s terminology), you can’t do much about the piece of art you’re looking at. So is there anything you can do?
Are you bothered about the artist? Do you care who the artist is, and are you bothered about what they want to say? At the very least, this means seeing them as a real human being with something to see about the world and their place in it. But it might also mean finding out about the artist: What’s their background? What have they done before? What matters to them?
Have you made an effort to speak the language? If art is a conversation, then every artist is contributing in their own language – a language of colour, symbols and metaphors which put across their view of the world. Have you tried to get inside the language the artist is using? You don’t need to be an expert. Ask yourself how the colours make you feel. What do the elements in the painting remind you of?
What were you expecting? You may be expecting the artist to communicate through their work, but they might not be making a statement of fact or opinion. They might be trying to create an impression. Or are they asking you a question? Or forcing you to ask a question yourself? Think about how you’d communicate face-to-face – there’s more to a conversation than just stating facts.
Do you like it? This is often the first question with which we approach a piece of work, “do I like it.” And I think it’s a valid question. But it shouldn’t be the first question, because it’s about what we want to see, not what we’re actually seeing. And when you do ask the question, you should always know why you like or dislike a piece. Because then you’re starting to respond…