I consider myself a curious person — I like to read and think about varied phenomena, something which the few of you who read my work already know. But one area in which I’m especially under-informed, even compared to normal people, is art.
Maybe it’s in part because some modern art is (alleged to be) propaganda masquerading as the real thing, and some of it is undoubtedly propped up for money laundering and tax evasion, but I was surely exposed to quality art while growing up, and still I never developed much interest in it.
There was something drab and dreary about trudging through museums full of tourists and students starting at walls squinting to wring meaning out it. The idea that we’re in this particular space, and now’s the time to turn on your art appreciation faculty never worked for me.
The museum is the place where art is displayed, and you know what to expect, like a movie of which someone already told you the entire premise and plot. It would be better to go into the theater knowing nothing, looking at the characters and the screen with fresh eyes. Or find a painting hanging somewhere unexpected that caught you by surprise.
Otherwise, you’re staring at the 500-year-old likeness of some obese naked woman on a white wall, thinking, sure this is well done, but what relevance does it have to me?
. . .
Something changed for me recently, though. I realized it when we visited a museum in the Spanish desert outside the city of Cáceres. It was a bizarre location, and the exhibit was from a seemingly insane German artist Wolf Vostell who liked to smash parts of airplanes and cars together.
I took a few photos to use them as potential covers for my posts. Often, I use photos of nature which at least is something nice to look at, but art is much more specific and better at conveying the mood for what I’ve written.
Now when I go to an art museum, I’m looking at it opportunistically — which of these pieces is saying something I’m feeling, expressing a sentiment I’d be likely to write about? I’m eager finally to connect with what I’m seeing, not because it’s art class, or time to look at art, but because for once it has a purpose in my life.
. . .
One other takeaway from the exhibit near Cáceres was how bizarre these artworks were.
Often I think who the hell am I to post and podcast my thoughts on life and world affairs? I live in an apartment and type at a keyboard. Why should I feel so entitled to express myself and expect other people might want to receive my observations?
But no matter how much of a leap it might be to publish my internal workings, how much more so for someone to put a bunch of corroded 1970s television sets on old tables and open an entire museum? How could this artist possibly think his disturbing visions of techno-wreckage would be worth sharing with other people? Because that’s what artists do. They share it anyway, whether they know anyone will appreciate their visions or not.
. . .
One final thought about artists. If I ever feel sorry for myself, given my relatively limited reach on Substack and other social media, it’s sobering to consider the plights of artists of the past — real artists, not semi-retired fantasy sports writers dabbling. For example, arguably the greatest composer in human history, Johann Sebastian Bach, was not even appreciated for his compositions until 100 years after his death! Imagine being a genius of that stature and only knowing it yourself!
To the extent anyone at all is reading these words is, relatively speaking, a miracle.