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What Does Art Do For Me?

Recently our Annual Festival of Art and Opera ended. I looked in on some of the exhibitions. Even more recently a massive collection of unknown paintings was discovered in Germany. I understand it is worth millions. I ask myself what is the purpose of art? What does it do for me? How does art help me to be more rounded and better as a person? Much of what is called "art" just leaves me cold.
I am told that "What cannot be said in words or expressed in thought is brought to light in art". I can appreciate a rustic scene, a good protrait, even a well-drawn and meaningful cartoon. But much of 'modern' art to me is like 'modern' music - meaningless. As I say, it leaves me cold. I do not feel any the better for it as a person and feel I could do just as well myself.

We are told that in "a work of art inspiration and human skill are combined in the artist so as to give a valid form to something new, a previously unseen aspect of reality. Art is not an end in itself. It should uplift people, move them, improve them."

I ask myself: How does this piece "uplift" me? Isn't it terrible to be ignorant?


I feel that with Modern art, personal experience and personal taste is so much more important than it is with Classical art. For example, I think that almost everyone would look at a work by Fra Filippo Lippi and be moved. His luminescent faces and gentle humanity reach across time, and even the most secular person would feel touched by the beauty of his work.

But with Modern works, there is less universality. It's funny that you should choose a work by Mondrian, because he is my favourite Modernist. I find his works peaceful and composing in the same way that I find a minimalist Japanese garden very beautiful, or a well-structured mathematical equation inexpressibly elegant. But if you are not someone who sees the loveliness in a garden of gravel as much as in one of green, or for whom quadratics were just torture, then I can see why his work would leave you cold.

For me, I find a lot of Expressionism over the top with its angst and forced vibrancy. But then there are works by Chagall, Marc and Klee that are warm and loving and which speak of an artist who wanted to respond to the natural world and I genuinely love some of them.

I think that is the point of difference of Modern art: in theory circles they talk about 'reading' a work, and for many Moderm works, they do need to be in a language that the viewer speaks, which is a much less universal language than that of much Classical art. For me, the minute they speak sturm und drang, or cyncicism and capitalism, I turn off, but I do find great beauty in both the clinical brushstrokes of Mondrian and the lush abundance of someone like Klimt.

Edited at 2013-11-09 12:57 (UTC)

What this piece says to me is that life is normally rigid and unexciting but is occasionally relieved by splashes of colour. But we all know that. It's not anything new.

I understand Mondrian's work is about harmony and balance.

But so is a brick wall.

There are a few brick walls around the world that I have looked at and thought, 'that bricklayer was an artist.' :-)
Whilst I adore the work of Fra Angelico and his pupil Benozzo Gozzoli (Gozzoli particularly speaks deeply to me) I also love the piece you use to illustrate 'modern' art (it's actually from the first third of the twentieth century) and Futurism and Cubism reach out to me fom that period like David Hockney as a living artist from the present day and as does modernist music (although it doesn't stop me liking Handel or even earlier music like Thomas Luis de Victoria.

I never think it hurts to have catholic (small 'c' :o) tastes and to, as they say, 'suck it and see'.

Ignorant? You? I don't think so!

Edited at 2013-11-09 13:04 (UTC)
I shall try then to "suck it and see".
I am not an art expert but... with a lot of modern or abstract pieces, I just like to stare at the picture for a while and think about what it reminds me of or how it makes me feel - in much the same way as I'd contemplate the light on the water or the shape of the clouds. Sometimes, of course, there's no reaction, but usually the act of contemplation itself takes me on a little journey and I always feel exhilarated after visiting a good gallery. I've also seen some "modern" Aboriginal artwork that makes you feel like you're falling inside it if you contemplate it long enough - which makes me wonder if that wasn't the original point of the patterns.
de gustibus non disputandum est. nobody likes all kinds of anything; maybe your taste in art just runs to the representational.

that said, the only way to expand one's tastes is to be open to really looking at things one may not yet appreciate. i don't think asking others is all that helpful; you have to see what (if anything) the art can do for you. otherwise you can just shrug and say "it's nice for someone else but not my thing".

i leave you with two john cage quotes (a composer you probably despise, though i like a good 20% of his music and have much enjoyed singing it in chorus):

“The first question I ask myself when something doesn't seem to be beautiful is why do I feel it's not beautiful? And very shortly you discover there is no reason.”

“If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.”
If I do not see it as beautiful and uplifting I will not make the effort to ask why it's not.
I might, if it's at least interesting, in the same way I might eat half a bad bowl of lobster bisque to figure.out where the chef went wrong. Or I might stand there and think, why on earth would anyone want to bother with this piece? Usually, though, I'll not bother, but just wince and move on.

This piece ... ick. But the Tate Modern in London has.a gorgeous glowing work by the same artist that I adore. Only in person, mind, it doesn't reproduce worth a darn.
huh. why not? do you really only believe in love at first sight?
As an artist, I am well aware that my art speaks to my inner self and that if others are inspired by it to take a new look at their world, it is all to the good. I am also well aware that art doesn't speak to everyone and that it is interpreted in many different ways - visual, auditory, spatial, and even through light and air. It's all art.

Art is the expression of the human soul when mere words cannot convey the emotion/expression. Without art the world's boundaries would close in and the color would be leached from life.

- Erulisse (one L)
there are times when I don't have words - although I usually have words -
there are times when only line and color will express what I am feeling
Art is communication - not everyone speaks the same language
Not everyone has the same message
Classic art, whatever style it may be, often expresses philosophical statements. Abstract art pleases our senses with interplays of shapes and colors and visual surprise. But classic art, of course, also may include pleasing effects of form and color, and abstract art may make subtle philosophical points. Everyone has a right to like or dislike whatever they choose... but it's not a good idea to be dogmatic about it. Every once in a while it's good to seek out something you think you don't like, and/or something that's new to you, and try to expand your horizons a bit.
Well, I don't think that the idea behind all art is to uplift. Sometimes it is, sometimes it's trying to jolt how the viewer looks at things, sometimes it's making a political or sociological point... sometimes, I swear, it's just weird for the sake of weird. (Which isn't always bad; I enjoy the work of the Surrealists.)But with a few exceptions, I don't much care for the majority of Modern art; I'm a big preRaphaelite fan myself.