Tuesday, June 12, 2012

"What Is Art?" Continued...

    Last week’s post by Kat, one of my fellow interns, made me think about what art is. For me, each unique piece, no matter if it’s photographic, kinetic, electronic or even made out of dry noodles, conveys the essence of the artist—his or her perception, opinion, state of mind—everything he or she can’t say out loud because there simply aren’t any words that exist to express those emotions or thoughts. But then I thought of the different kinds of art. There’s aesthetically pleasing art, such as sculptures, paintings, and music; there’s functional art, which either serves a tangible purpose (such as a beautifully designed bench) or promotes thought and conversation; there’s even language art, which includes poetry and prose that is artistically written.

    Going over these genres, I then began to trail through my memory and look back on my own experiences with art. I traveled to London in March, and one place I had to go was the Tate Gallery. It was there I saw one of my favorite paintings in person: “The Lady of Shalott,” by John William Waterhouse. That painting is not merely a canvas with pigment on it—the story behind Alfred Tennyson’s poem that inspired the work stretches as far back as the 13th century with the legend of Elaine of Astolat. Just think; the Lady traveled nearly 600 years just to become a visual work of art that, today, another hundred years later, inspires, awes and (perhaps in my own opinion) mystifies. What is she looking at? Is there more to her story than simply wishing to meet Sir Lancelot? What does she yearn for, truly? What were Waterhouse, Tennyson, and the writer of the original legend trying to express through their respective mediums that they couldn’t say outright?

John William Waterhouse,"The Lady of Shalott"

    Thinking all of this, I realized that this is painting that encompasses the genres I mentioned previously. It’s aesthetically pleasing, it’s functional in that the subject promotes some form of thought, and it was initially based on a work that persisted through time. But, more than that, as I stood in front of it, I felt this overwhelming sense of history, myth, and emotion coming together in a magnificent form envisioned by Waterhouse—I could see what he saw, feel what he felt. That, for me, is what art is. It affects you in such a way that you can’t ignore the artist’s hands that held the brush, chisel, clay, or pen. It can be an understanding of a message, such as Damien Hirst’s “The Void” or just a feeling as it was for me and “The Lady of Shalott.” What makes art art is the impact it leaves on the viewer, and I hope very much that you find that impact at GMOA. 

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