Art is not (or shouldn’t be) an inert object that sits passively in a room. Useful objects have artistic elements to them that make them an object at which it is more pleasant to look upon, but a “piece of art” is something that has a message. Art is an interpretation of reality. It is describing to the viewer what what the artist sees about reality that is true, good and/or beautiful.
This weekend we will have the reading of the Transfiguration. This is when Jesus goes to the top of the mountain and is transfigured before His disciples into dazzling white garments, Moses and Elijah. In the West we tend to view this from the perspective that Jesus changed, revealing His true nature to His disciples. The Eastern Catholic Church (thanks D.S.) looks to the change in the disciples - that their vision of Jesus changed to see Him as He truly was. Which is more true? Are they equally true? It is difficult to say. Here are the same facts, the same incidents, but two very different ways of interpreting exactly what happened. How might the artistic interpretation differ? What if you didn't believe in Jesus? What if you didn't believe in God? What if you believed this story was part of a dominating hierarchy to keep people in line? What if you saw yourself as Jesus?
Some see Christopher Columbus as a great and brave man, others see him as a horrible monster. Some see life as a great and lovely adventure, others see it as meaningless, brutish, and short. Sometimes it helps if, when looking at a modern piece of art that initially does nothing for you, to ask, “Is this a new take - a different vision - a unique vision - a fun insight into the workings of a world vision that I don’t particularly share?”
Not everything that is true, good and beautiful is obvious at first. (Remember your first taste of wine? Yuck!) And maybe you wont ever come to like a particular school (there are whole schools without which I think the world would not suffer) but you can have a moment to understand what world view is being portrayed.
Now, you may still walk away from the piece thinking, “what a waste of the $25 admission fee” and largely think that the price tag on the “art” as a fraud on those with too much money to spend and too little common sense to go along with it, but you will come away with a greater knowledge of how at least part of your culture if viewing reality. If you never come to like it or at least appreciate it, decide if it is because it is poorly executed or if, in your estimation, it appears to be utterly false.
Next week - we will start looking at ideas of what is beautiful and what may be just pretty or interesting.