Standing in front of a contemporary painting at an art gallery with a friend- who’s not quite in tune with the Arts- asking me “Is this supposed to be good? What does it mean?” is a scenario that has happened to me a lot more times than I ever thought I could endure.
Which got me thinking: is it a problem with my artistically challenged friend, or the painting itself? The Art world has a tendency to disregard or belittle art work that is considered ‘obvious’, yet the average audience member is not quite equipped to decode the currently complex range of art expression. Should artists tone down their approach, or should their viewers try harder?
I’d say a bit of both. Unlike our stance with music, many of us lack the confidence in choosing or liking works of Art, where it seems that our own personal taste is not quite enough. It helps that music is so swiftly categorized, marketed and neatly packaged to be with us at all times, but still, Art shouldn’t be so terribly far behind on our list of pleasurable experiences.
Artists and their critics alike are mostly reluctant in their support to clearer modes of expression, despite the fact that becoming more accessible to the average layman’s understanding without completely ‘selling out’ is a way to bridge the current gap between artists and the masses. Artists will hate this because it’s actually more difficult to create original artwork that provides punch, wit, that’s aesthetically pleasing (or scarring, depending on what your aim is) and quickly understood. Critics may hate this argument as well, particularly those who are advocates of Über contemporary video, audio & installation, on the premise that Art is not meant to be pretty but rather thought-provoking and as complex as life is.
I say, what’s wrong with obvious? It puts a clear standard on who’s a good creator and who’s full of it. A lot of people confuse the story with the storytelling: If the storyteller is clear it doesn’t mean that the story lacks complexity. Van Gogh’s Starry night is one of the most popular and recognized paintings in the world- by no means does that indicate a lack of depth in its style, subject matter or aesthetic merits. People like an interesting story well told because honestly, how long can you look at a complicated video piece or a heavily pixalated scene before you just give up? Of course art lovers should be more involved and active participants while viewing art- thoughtfully complex pieces are an unparalleled joy when you finally ‘get’ them- but sometimes I’d rather just look at art rather then be obliged to read a lengthy artist statement or a 50 page catalogue to decipher a painting.
If anything, advocating successful yet less complex approach to art creation would help us see the difference between those who have substance and those who hide behind smokey mirrors, because ultimately, a complex and obscure approach does not tell a better story that is any more timeless, universal or interesting than simple one. Case in point: Inception. That was a horrible story line for a movie, particularly that whole ski/ice world at the end- but that’s another post altogether.