I don't get art.

I don’t think art is a thing, but rather an event.

We use language to communicate information, we use art to communicate emotion.
Not in the sense of telling someone how you feel, but making them feel it. A good bluesman is the easiest example, but I think it’s true of all art. A good art event leaves me emotionally spent, and I almost want a cigarette (don’t smoke anymore, but remember), because I’ve just had an such intimate moment.

I agree with Fetus’s post, and would encourage the OP not to quit, when it happens it’s like climbing up over a ledge to a broader view, you can feel you mind changing, and know it will never change back.
Obiwan/you’ve taken your first step into a larger world/obiwan

But that’s only indirect association with the piece of art. It’s not people telling you what to think, or even influencing how you should think, at least not in any way that would interfere with your own independent appreciation. It’s easy for me, at least, to shut out that kind of thing. I pay no attention to how popular it is, or is trying to be. I certainly don’t care how much money somebody thinks it’s worth.

There is a certain amount of context that is unavoidable, such as is it part of pop culture, or is my first exposure to it on the cover of a magazine, or heard on a radio in amongst crass advertising, or whatever. But even then I am able to ignore that when I wish. I can view the same art in different contexts and still appreciate it the same way each time.

Art in its context is interesting from a sociological point-of-view, but it has little to do with the art itself.

Many ancient frescoes look naff, but they can be important due to their subject matter or techniques - often, say, they are the first examples of a particular way of experiencing and portraying the world.

People will go round-and-round arguing that some art is “better” than other - the truth is that if you have a reaction to it, the art has fulfilled its purpose (even if that purpose is to make you question what you understand by “art”).

And yes, when discussing Art (i.e. with a capital A) context is everything.

A random scribble on a napkin is worthless. A random scribble on a napkin by Picasso is worth plenty. A random scribble on a napkin that turns out not to be by Picasso after all is worthless.

The “art” hasn’t changed, but its value / worth has… that’s the trouble with the “professional” art world, art is very rarely judged on its own merits.

(Of course, you could argue that art can never exist in a vacuum and that context is as much part of the artwork as the paint and canvas, but I think that moves the boundaries into something wider than a pure aesthetic repsonse to an object).

Art is one of those things like Olympic-level athletics*. The masters are so good at what they do that the sheer difficulty of it is masked from the casual observer.

The last time I was in Boston we went to see the Sargent exhibit. There was one picture showing the anteroom of a house, and there was a bright streak across the floor, almost as if a ray from the sun was reflecting through a window at a different angle from some unseen surface outside. You could make out the location of the lites in the window by how the bright streak broke up.

I leaned in, I mean way in, until my nose was about an inch from the canvas. It was a damn string of blobs of paint! They were literally just visibly blobs, that looked like they’d been left there as a careless mistake when viewed up close. So how the hell did he get them to look just like a reflection through a window?

When one evaluates art, especially traditional realism, one must always remember that everything one sees is blobs of paint smeared across a piece of canvas. The Mona Lisa is not praised because nobody ever painted a picture of a woman in black before. It’s because Da Vinci managed to give her a subtle, almost secretive smile, a singularly human expression, using nothing more than blobs of paint smeared around a canvas.

Go ahead. You try.

One can decide for onesself whether the artist’s skill was applied to a worthy subject or not, but one should always credit the sheer mechanical achievement.

*Go ahead. Stand on one foot and then jump so your whole body is above the normal height of your head, then land back on one foot. Then realize that the tiny kid in the blue sequined skirt is doing it while moving backwards on a skate on ice.

Porn has a nicer price tag!

Very good analogy, and true. I can never unsee in paintings what I learned about them from that Art History book in college. Still I have never had anything approaching fetus’s experiences in Post 17. I know what those experiences are though. I experience them regularly with other arts. I know what it is to rotate a piece of art, so to speak, in my hand and view it from every possible angle with my mind’s eye, and to get lost in the experience. But not with the visual arts. I read Post 17 with admiration and envy because I know that experience, I am convinced people do have it with the visual arts, but for some reason I cannot.

For sure, art appreciation is active: you can chose to look at an object in many different ways and that includes shutting out some of the context. But, what I don’t understand is why someone would systematically avoid, or refuse, to learn more about a particular object’s context.

All art is more or less symbolic. Even a completely uniform minimalist canvas. I could read a poem by Yosano Akiko, but you’d need to understand Japanese to get to its beauty. It seems to me that you’re saying that if someone proposed to teach you Japanese, you’d refuse. Medieval painting uses a great wealth of symbols that are largely lost to modern audiences. Learning about those symbols is very much akin to learning a new language, and from there it’s a gradient to people offering their opinion about why they think Christian Lassen is the shit. Of course, I’m free to ignore the crusty old prof blabbering on about snakes and half naked geezers rubbing their chest with stone, but I’m also free to to say OMG, you’re right, dolphins!

It depends on if its another observer’s interpretation, or if it’s clear intention from the artist. I do care about the artist’s intent, but not an outsider’s personal opinion.

The last three Thursdays I took vacation days and located the first ten subway tunnels (south to north) in the East River. I often contemplate the present and future of computers.

I get visual art, and I know a lot about it, and I know what I like, but what I personally really really like and what I merely like or know a lot about and/or appreciate as a great work are often not the same. I can explain exactly why something might be technically great or groundbreaking, but others stop me in my tracks in a personal way. I get first an aesthetic sense of gobsmacked attraction and admiration for how just damn cool that composition/color scheme/ theme is, and then a tortured sense of yearning/possessiveness, because I want to exist in this darn painting forever (not live in its diegetic world or whatever, I just want to be with it. Hard to explain).

However, I also know what I don’t know. For example, music-- my blind spot of knowledge.
I don’t get the noodly kind of jazz, even the stuff widely understood to be great, by Mingus and such (I’m not even sure what exactly the genre’s called, see). However, I recognize that this is because I don’t know a darn thing about it-- I have no musical training at all, or even music appreciation, so the intricacies of jazz–all those musical references and tricks and games I’m sure are in there–are completely lost on me.

But I can accept that they’re there and that my lack of appreciation is something I could remedy by learning something about it.

My lack of knowledge about music has started to be embarrassing (in the context of my main interests) and so I’m doing a bit about it. “Here’s Hans Memling’s portrait of Jacob Obrecht, a great composer of the era. . .” Hmm. I should probably figure out what music in the 1490s sounded like. And in doing so I learn that Ockeghem and Obrecht are totally awesome. I can talk about “this visual artist worked with John Cage, as did this one, and this one, and all of Fluxus, etc” but only recently have I realized that I didn’t know what John Cage sounded like, so now I’m in this Cage/Stockhausen/etc personal learning project.

I know what I like, but what I like can be very much expanded beyond my base likes of easily accessible, familiar, poppy commercial Gen-X post-punk by learning a thing or two. If I restricted myself to understanding, and hence liking, the music that I could automatically get without any further effort, well. . . I’d be listening to the Ramones forever, wouldn’t I?

Ode to Joy. “So Happy Together”, by the Turtles (it was the Turtles, right?).
Those two songs convey happiness, or at least it’s feeling, in an almost indescribable way.

Edited to add: yeah, it was the Turtles.

Thanks for the replies. This is my second attempt to respond, as the first post was lost.

I know that this thread, or a couple of courses,aren’t going to make me an expert, but I when I wrote it, I was hoping to get pointed in the right direction. I know a couple of courses won’t make me an expert though, and I’d be willing to take another course when I get the time.

To answer some of your questions:

I took an Art course in college, but a large part of the problem was that the professor didn’t seem intrested in teaching beginners. He didn’t seem to understant that things might not be as obvious to us as they would be for the Art majors in his other courses, and he spent lots of time yelling at the people who didn’t immediately see things his way. Another part may be that like **Mark Ryle ** and **Yag **, I might not be wired to feel art. Like Yag Rannavach, the emotion in a piece must be heavy-handed for me to get it without needing it to be explained.

I have felt amazed by the beauty of nature, and of architecture. I’ve experienced the feeling of awe that **fetus ** described, but never with a painting or photograph. That doesn’t mean that I’ve never seen what I consider nice artwork, or that I don’t appreciate the skill that it took to produce it (which is the one thing the course really cemented for me), but I’ve never been “grabbed” by it.

The point about needing to see the piece in person, or try it out yourself is a good one. I have been to the local art galleries, though not very often. I live in Western NY, which is near Buffalo, and not NYC, but there are opportunities to see art around here.

I went to college in Buffalo. there’s a very nice modern art museum, the Albright-Knox on Elmwood and the 198.

I think that one problem is the way in which we usually experience art, in museums with hundreds of things crammed together. I never get much out of art displayed in this way–it’s kind of a kick to see the objects in the flesh, but it’s too distracting and there’s too much demand/temptation to see less of more, to do the whirlwind tour and see all of the Louvre. Of COURSE the Mona Lisa is teh sux in that environment. Sort of like getting to give a damn about a new song when the other 8000 tunes in your MP3 library want to be heard. To really appreciate something often I need to consider it in isolation-- not usually possible in the museum, so I do most of that with reproductions. But, say, when I was living in Europe, at one of the museums nearby there was a painting I particularly liked, and after having been to that museum a couple of times I was able to go to the museum for a visit FOR that work alone-- I just hung out with it for an hour or so and spent some quality time with it. So a lot of things that I spend time with in museums are things that I have already studied in reproductions, so I make special time for them, and only then might I get gobsmacked by the physical object. But there are a handful of paintings that I have looked at for so very, very long that of all the people in the world I may have observed the most about them (I don’t think this is an exaggeration) so just me describing the thing in detail would make a person see things that he would not have noticed otherwise.

Me neither.

Watch that show with the Nun explaining art. She’s really good at explaining it to anyone.

But I can’t remember the name of her show. It runs on public television occasionally.

I think all viewpoints can help to inform one’s appreciation for a work of art. I normally come to artists simply because I’m viscerally drawn to their works, but occasionally, a little bit of left-braining and study helps me discover things about works I’ve never noticed before. It’s not the outsider’s opinion on what is good and bad that’s interesting. It’s why they consider it good or bad. What is it’s relation to art history? What technical points are interesting about the painting? Creative points? Etc… I don’t assume I can know everything about a piece of art simply by looking at it. Some things are over my head, or too subtle, or whatnot, and a little bit of third-party context helps me evaluate it. One is free to accept or reject the opinion of others, but, for me, it helps in understanding how a work of art relates to me.

I was going to mention “Ode to Joy” as well. I realize the poster was saying there is no emotion in art for him and I can’t tell someone how they should feel, but there’s a reason human beings can instinctively recognize a minor key versus a major key: I think that reason is an emotional response. There’s an obvious emotional tenor to something like “Ride of the Valkyries” that is dramatically different from “Rockin’ Robin,” right? Why do people dance, then? Doesn’t art exist almost expressly to create emotion?

I’m sorry you had such a crap teacher, that can ruin a person on just about anything.

I loved fetus’s post. I am also a huge art fan, and majored in art history at college, and don’t really have the same reaction, as cool as it sounds. But I think that just goes to show that people can come at art from all different places, and appreciate it in different ways. Me, I’m very big on the history and context aspects of art history. Experiencing art is the way I connect with history – looking at great art makes me start thinking about when it was created, why, how, why people liked it (or hated it) 50, 100, or 500 years ago, where it would have been displayed. I think my response is still emotional, but not in the same way that fetus described.

Here’s some thoughts about stuff in WNY …

The Burchfield-Penny Art Center at Buff State in downtown Buffalo (often described as “across the street from the ‘real’ art museum” :slight_smile: ). This is nice, I think, because it’s a little smaller and not crazy with the crowds, so one can be more comfortable going along at one’s own pace. It also has an extensive collection of Charles Burchfield, who is a minor American watercolor artist, who also lived in Buffalo. I am a big fan of his stuff, because I get a nice familiar spark from it – here’s a guy who is from Ohio and lived in Buffalo as an adult, and when I look at his work, I recognize what I see (but could never really describe well or paint myself). This is his Early December Snow, which I like because it captures something that I feel I know – how snow looks in Buffalo in December, which seems different to me from how snow looks in Maine, or Alaska or how it looks in a Thomas Kinkade winter scene like Stonehearth Hutch.

There’s currently a neat exhibit up now, that displays a series of Burchfield’s work that has this haunted, surreal flavor to it. So a typical subject, like a farmhouse, only it’s creepy and weird, which I get a kick out of. This is kind of the basis for surrealist art in general – something normal and familiar that is twisted to become weird and strange, yet you still recognize it. (It all sounds more impressive in German.)

As much as I love the Albright, I’m not really convinced it’s the best art museum experience for a person who is uncommitted about art in general, because its absolutely stellar modern art collection is a little overwhelming, and it’s loud. One thing the Albright is great for, though, is enjoyment of art on a purely visceral level. I’m a terrible viewer of modern sculpture because I always want to touch it. If I had Agam’s Ninth Power in my house, I’d roll it around all day, it just looks like it would be so much fun to touch. Painting can have that motion/texture thing going on as well, like Sun, Tower, Airplane. It’s like touching something with your eyes, your vision really moves with the lines of this painting.

Yeah, seeing it in person makes an amazing difference. I gotta admit, I never got the great masters (this is before I read the book I recommended above) 'til I went to the Smithsonian. I can still vividly recall the first Van Gogh I saw, a relatively unimportant work of white rises against a green background, and how it just popped. Reprints just pale in comparison.