Is Pretty Enough?

A friend acquired three tickets to see the King Tut exhibit at the AGO and kindly invited me along for the ride. We decided to make a day of it and did brunch before heading over.

After working our way through the featured exhibit, we took the opportunity to check out the other displays and the recent renovations to the space itself.

I lost them for a bit and when I found them again I learned that they had gone on a hunt for something they liked….

They wanted pretty.

Pretty colours, pretty subject matter. Pretty.

I had visions of Thomas Kinkade and Trisha Romance dancing in my head. (I am going to be sick now.)

I could only shake my head.

I honestly couldn’t tell if they were being facetious but it got me thinking about the nature of art.

What is art?

I don’t think I am qualified to answer.

I don’t presume to know anything about art. All I know is what I like and dislike. I may not understand something and I (and anyone else for that matter) am free not to like something but one cannot declare, out of hand, that something is not art.

Sometimes understanding the context will alter my perception of a work.

Sometimes its history, the past and present owners are the most interesting thing about a piece.

Sometimes seeing the work itself (and not just a picture in a book) will change the way I think.

I am slightly embarrassed that I did not get Rothko, had summarily dismissed his work, until I saw some of his paintings in Tate Modern in London and now I consider his work among my favourites.

Art should provoke an emotional response. Encourage conversation. Make one think.

You don’t have to like it but you should feel something. It should not be dismissed, whether out of ignorance or arrogance.

I ruminated over my feelings about art while they practically ran through whole sections of the gallery. I got frustrated enough at one point to pick a piece out and try to explain my interpretation of what the artist may have been trying to say.

There were two logs lying at one end of the grand hallway that is the underside of the canoe which is arguably the most significant addition to the gallery. It turned out not to be wood but a plastic composite of some sort made to look like old growth that had been cut down. Nails had been pounded into the “wood” at one inch intervals along the entire surface. I explained that activists would put nails into trees to deter people from cutting them down since a hitting a nail with a saw would likely break the blade and potentially harm the lumberjack. But the “tree” had been cut down despite all the nails that had been driven into it. On a literal level, it speaks to the futility of trying to save old growth forests.

The only response during my attempt to open eyes a wee bit was whether a nail driven into a tree hurt the tree and the concluding comment from the same person was, quote, “I like trees,” end quote.

I blinked twice, nodded and walked on.

I hope she was just pretending to be obtuse but I really don’t know.

(Sigh.) I am going to stop now.

Not too long ago I brought up Mondrian in conversation and drew a blank stare. I did a quick and informal survey and only about two out of 10 people had any idea who Mondrian was before I had them google him. That was a depressing afternoon.

Why do I even bother?

I honestly don’t know.

But I digress.

Pretty isn’t a bad thing but it should not be the only thing.

With that, I’ll stop- for now.

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~ by angryegg on February 8, 2010.

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