Wassily Kandinsky, Concentric Circles
“My kid could draw that!” “What the hell is that supposed to be?” “I don’t get it!”
Art can elicit a lot of emotions from people. The one that continually surprises me is hostility. Usually it comes when someone is confronted with what we might call Modern or Contemporary Art: an abstract painting or sculpture, a canvas with three stripes of color on it, an artwork made of found objects or something gruesome, offensive or just plain creepy. It is, of course, a broad generalization to put all contemporary art in this camp. But there has been enough of it over the last one hundred years to put a lot of people off a visit to the art gallery.
There is a part of me that understands the hostility. In fact, there are artists who have intentionally tried to piss you off, so if you are then… job well done! But it is still a shame that there is a popular misconception about contemporary art. It is not all garbage nor does it exist simply for shock value; it is not a big con being pulled on an unsuspecting public; it is not a thoughtless and talent-less attempt at fame and fortune. Certainly, there are charlatans in the art world. But I suspect they don’t get very far before someone peeks behind their curtain to reveal what they’re really about.
Art is about conversation, a sharing of ideas, an opening of thought and imagination and feeling, an exploration of what it means to be human and why it matters. Art must be understood as being on a journey, one that will never end. But the journey is the thing, not the destination. Artists wrestle with big issues in their lives and in the world through what they create. They can be embarrassingly open and vulnerable; they can be intentional pains-in-the-ass; they can be sweet and warm; they can be angry or grieving or in love or seeking or lost. It all comes out in the art.
In an attempt to help bridge the gap between contemporary art/artists and those who view or experience their art, this post is a combination of images and words. Using the works of some of the giants of 20th century art along with their words, I’m hoping it opens a bit of a window into their reality and their motivation.
Artists aren’t trying to exist in a different world from everyone else. Artists are striving to make sense of the world they share with everyone else.
Wassily Kandinsky, Composition VIII
“Of all the arts, abstract painting is the most difficult. It demands that you know how to draw well, that you have a heightened sensitivity for composition and for colors, and that you be a true poet. This last is essential.”
Jackson Pollack, Autumn Rhythm number 30
“It doesn’t make much difference how the paint is put on as long as something has been said. Technique is just a means of arriving at a statement.”
Joan Miro, The Tilled Field
“The joy of achieving in a landscape a perfect comprehension of a blade of grass.. as beautiful as a tree or a mountain.. What most of all interests me is the calligraphy of the tiles on a roof or that of a tree scanned leaf by leaf, branch by branch.”
Jean Arp, Collage with Squares Arranged According to the Laws of Chance
“Art is a fruit that grows in man like a fruit on a plant or a child in its mother’s womb.”
Willem deKooning, Woman
“I’m not interested in ‘abstracting’ or taking things out or reducing painting to design, form, line, and color. I paint this way because I can keep putting more things in it – drama, anger, pain, love, a figure, a horse, my ideas about space. Through your eyes it again becomes an emotion or idea.”
Pablo Picasso, Les Demoisseles d’Avignon
“Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth.”
Marc Chagall, I and the Village
“My hands were too soft.. I had to find some special occupation, some kind of work that would not force me to turn away from the sky and the stars, that would allow me to discover the meaning of life.”
Andy Warhol, Cambell’s Soup Cans
“How can you say one style is better than another? You ought to be able to be an Abstract Expressionist next week, or a Pop artist, or a realist, without feeling you’ve given up something.. I think that would be so great, to be able to change styles. And I think that’s what’s is going to happen, that’s going to be the whole new scene.”
Alexander Calder, Arc of Petals
“The next step in sculpture is motion.”
Marcel Duchamp, Nude Descending Staircase
“You cannot define electricity. The same can be said of art. It is a kind of inner current in a human being, or something which needs no definition.”
Frida Kahlo, The Two Fridas
“I’ve done my paintings well… and they have a message of pain in them, but I think they’ll interest a few people. They’re not revolutionary, so why do I keep on believing they’re combative?”
Salvador Dali, The Persistence of Memory
“The fact that I myself, at the moment of painting, do not understand my own pictures, does not mean that these pictures have no meaning; on the contrary, their meaning is so profound, complex, coherent, and involuntary that it escapes the most simple analysis of logical intuition.”
Piet Mondrian, Broadway Boogie Woogie
“I wish to approach truth as closely as is possible, and therefore I abstract everything until I arrive at the fundamental quality of objects.”
Mark Rothko, Four Dark Reds
“If you are only moved by color relationships, you are missing the point. I am interested in expressing the big emotions – tragedy, ecstasy, doom.”
Georgia O’Keeffe, Petunia #2
“When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for the moment. I want to give that world to someone else.” – Georgia O’Keeffe
Henri Matisse, Joy of Life
“What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity, devoid of troubling or depressing subject-matter, an art which could be for every mental worker, for the businessman as well as the man of letters, for example, a soothing, calming influence on the mind, something like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue.”
Christo, Valley Curtain, Rifle, Colorado 1970-72
“The work of art is a scream of freedom.”