There are several artistic mediums to date which I’ve always been a little embarassed not to appreciate: art and poetry. I like the Shakespeare pieces I’ve read (and have plenty more on my Kindle) so the latter isn’t a complete area of disinterest but outside architecture I’d yet to really appreciate the former. So when given the opportunity to visit the Tate Modern with a lovely lady who claimed to know a thing or two about the art there I leapt at the chance. I can’t claim it was a complete success, this blog isn’t going to shift focus to that of modern art anytime soon for instance, but the experience did give me an insight into what people enjoy about art and how to appreciate it.
One of the major points I took away was the realisation that I might be expecting too much of art and this could explain why I’ve always found myself a little disappointed. Unlike other artistic mediums which I really do appreciate such as literature and music the aim in many pieces of art isn’t to emotionally move the viewer. The pieces of art I have appreciated in the past tended to be those on a huge scale which very realistically depict the figures and scenery they’re trying to illustrate. These have impressed me and so I’ve been able to appreciate them. It’s easy to see that pieces like those by Agnes Martin could never ever create these responses in people, but that wasn’t the artistic attention so they can’t be judged on those merits.
A second thing I learned is that a lot of art appreciation does come from the talent and technique involved in the creation. Since taking up writing with renewed intent (not just this blog!) I’ve found that my ability to appreciate novels has improved and so in turn has the amount I’m reading. It’s not just that I can understand why I’m dissatisfied in certain cases but a simple appreciation of how an author has used plot structure and the skill taken to interweave character and plot together in a satisfying manner can increase my enjoyment of a story. With art I’m utterly neutered of this ability to appreciate. I stopped taking art classes in year 9, which is around 9 years ago now. Even at the time I couldn’t really do any art, it always ended up looking like a cross between the elephant man and a toxic sludge pile. Now though I can barely even remember how badly I couldn’t do art. So virtually everything (I think I do have the artistic capability to film myself nude rolling in blood and feathers. I just lack the motivation.) in Tate Modern is beyond my abilities. So without being able to spot what’s skilled and which pieces have poor technique it’s an entire area of appreciation that is all but closed off to me without someone to help.
I tend to see things holistically and some pieces of art just don’t work from that perspective. Ruby, who I visited the gallery with seemed to see individual elements she liked both a lot quicker than me (Although she has been many times before) and could focus on these elements without necessarily liking the whole. This isn’t probably something I can change but I found it interesting that the pieces I tended to appreciate more possibly work best when approached like this. I dislike pieces of Surrealism in particularly and these always strike me as being very busy and full of lots of individual pieces which don’t form a cohesive whole to the same extent.
I’ve focused a lot on what I didn’t like about art but I do think I got to see some art that I did like which I might not have before. After leaving the Tate Modern we went to the National Gallery and among the stuffy paintings of bearded gents there was a gallery containing work by Bridget Riley. These are usually the type of pieces I’d dismiss quite quickly since blocks of colour or shades of grey aren’t likely to give me that “Oh wow” moment. But having the artist’s objectives and background explained to me (very enthusiastically at this point I might add) alongside the pieces I felt like I did begin to enjoy an aspect of them. It might come back to the holistic thing particularly since the pieces tried to avoid being seen as individual elements through the use of colour which shifted your focus. I liked the way the different colours shifted and rippled across the pieces. There was just generally a lot going on from a lot of simple pieces which I could recognise had been arranged with artistic intent.
This is probably the first time I’ve enjoyed and appreciated an abstract piece of modern artwork. So all is not lost!