Painting is often difficult to talk about. Especially Contemporary Painting.
According to Neil Campbell (an artist, curator and educator at Emily Carr University), painting has the ability to “deliver you to the artist’s mentality.” He offers mentality in the broadest sense, implying the full human spectrum of mind-body-spirit: rational cognition, intuition, emotions, physical rhythms, affects and experiences not necessarily rooted in the verbal (Monika Szewczyk). The activity of Painting can be interpreted as an investigation in mind-expansion.
Thirteen strategies for enjoying Contemporary Painting.
Spend time with it. The average viewer spends less than 20 seconds experiencing a painting. It probably took the artist longer than 20 seconds to make it. You would be doing yourself a great injustice by dismissing it so quickly. Even if did take the artist only 20 seconds to make, this 20 seconds is the product of a lifetime of practice.
Be an active participant. As a viewer, you are responsible for completing the artwork for yourself. What you see and feel are often very different from what you say. Each painting has the unique ability to deliver you to a space that is beyond verbal language. The artist is merely the mediator and the artwork is the backdrop for discovery! There is a subtle intelligence to painting. The maker had an intimate relationship to it, so in experiencing it, you are experiencing yourself.
List of possible questions:
How do I feel when I stand in front of it?
Where does it take me?
What is the artist’s agenda?
Do I care to figure it out?
Can I sense the underlying structure and logic of the system?
How does the scale interact with my body?
What colours and techniques did the artist use?
Is this an illusionary space or a flat surface?
How does the medium describe the ideas inherent to the work?
Is this image a response or reference to something other than itself?
Realize that there are no set meanings in visual art. Many kinds of knowledge cannot be understood by the mind but enter the body in ways we cannot describe with words.
Appreciate that the physical presence of a painting bears weight. For it to exist in public means that it has a presence in the canon of art. Once an artwork leaves the artist’s hands, it takes on a life of its own and now belongs to its audience.
Know that a large part of visual art is Frustration. Anything that is too easily obtained isn’t worth having.
Appreciate that each visual work has its own language. Even though we are all made of the same evolutionary hardware, we are all different and express in different ways. Some people are good with words, others are good with pictures.
Realize that having eyes does not imply knowledge about Visual Art. Sight is more than just owning a pair of eyes.Visual art and music are probably the most readily consumable forms of expression out there because everyone feels entitled to their taste and sense of value. The difference between participating in art and being an art consumer is the amount of time invested and intentions behind the effort. Doctors go to medical school to advance the knowledge of the human body. Scientists devote their lives to research in order to advance our definition of science. Artists go to art school to expand the definition of art and in doing so, growing our awareness of what it means to be human. So to recap, to know something about visual language is more than just consuming with your eyes and knowing how to write a cheque.
Be aware that words like post-modern and contemporary just imply the acceptance of uncertainty, change, possibility and turning inward. Artists working today are concerned with expanding the definition of how painting functions as a medium and how you can re-interpret and re-inhabit this two-dimensional surface without repeating the past, unless doing so intentionally. If all else fails, make fun of yourself.
Know that Visual Art is more than a comparison game. If you hear someone saying, ‘oh my child could have done that,’ the fact is that they didn’t. Art requires creativity and creativity lies in the ability to take an idea and execute it. Everyone can criticize in hindsight, but how many actually follow through with their ideas?
Enjoy the Silence. Silence creates a space for interpretation and growing one’s awareness. Quiet time for yourself means that you are open to inspiration that is everywhere, all the time, available to anyone with an open, untroubled mind. The collected sum of these moments can be defined as one’s sensibilities. What you see in a work of art are the collected sensibilites of an artist’s lifetime of practice and discipline. Children are often more receptive to inspiration. Perception is reception.
Realize that liking and disliking something are relative terms that don’t mean much. If you do not
‘like’ a work of art, could it be that it is simply foreign territory? We tend to be drawn to things that validate our own existence and when something is unfamiliar, it can create an existential crisis.
Be Present. Let go of what you need to do later on and what you’re having for dinner. Your anxiety is not welcome here. Everything is perfect in this moment. Enjoy it!