If I asked you “what is art?” you’d be right to close this window immediately. The eternal question has elicited numerous replies from pundits, none of which can satisfy everyone. While auction houses and collectors seem to agree on what constitutes valuable art, I’ve come to the conclusion that a general definition of art doesn’t matter as much as how we individually interact with it.
And that’s my definition (since it don’t matter, I can give it) : art is the sum of all individual responses to it. All is in the art. Art is in all. Right ?
Case closed. You’re welcome (insert silly grin) !
And that’s my topic for this post : individual relationships to art.
Befitting my chronic lack of time, this is a short article. Few words, a few more pictures. During an afternoon stroll in and around the Tate Modern, in London, I randomly photographed how visitors interacted with the pieces on display. It’s something I will try to do more purposefully in the future. If I can muster the cojones, that is.
In many ways, those individual responses and attitudes reveal who we are. And that’s my view on the purpose of art : Art reveals who we are. To others, of course but, more importantly, to ourselves. Artists are lanterns around which we congregate for deeper nourishment and evolution, like insects around a camp light, but without the zapping sounds. Each of us receptive to a different set of artists, based on our personal drives and biases.
Photographing people in museums is not a new topic in photography. Thomas Struth, for instance, working in European museums, asked himself :
“The museums were almost always crowded and this led me to wonder what people were looking for in front of these historic paintings. For me the museum is a place to sharpen my tools, my perception, to delve into history. What can you valuably take from pictures from the past, which might be a catalyst for interesting or productive ideas for the future?”
He also noted :
“The idea behind the museum photographs was to retrieve masterpieces from the fate of fame, to recover them from their status as iconic paintings, to remind us that these were works which were created in a contemporary moment, by artists who had everyday lives. They can be admired but revering the artist and their work can also be an impediment. In essence, I wanted to bring together the time of the picture and the time of the viewer.”
That level of thinking explains why Struth’s photographs are regularly auctioned for 6 and 7 figure amounts, while mine are displayed for free on a blog 😀
But where Struth focused on the (now) iconic artist as a living human being, I am more interested in how we spontaneously absorb or reject the work of others, famous or otherwise. You don’t have to go to museums to play that game. Co-author Philippe and I regularly swap photos for evaluation and rarely favor the same ones. We’re all complex beings with complex experiences, and what fascinates with art is that what passes for humongous are-you-having-a-laugh spuds for someone is pure genius to somebody else. It’s not just a matter of education and ‘getting it’.
Art triggers us all in very different ways.
Some admire, try to replicate, learn techniques from. They are future makers honing their craft.
Some try to understand, building a personality for themselves.
Some want to be told how / what to understand, building a culture for themselves.
Some want to collect memories, to frame the unfathomable analog device into controlled digital fragments, building Instagram accounts or educational folders.
Some want to take selfies (above), but our egos are transparent in the face of art (yes, I am joking)
Some are more focused on their phone, taking in the art subconsciously or in between rooms of greater appeal.
Others are more focused on survival
Some work in art, building a career for themselves.
Some consume art as a testimonial of the past, building an ideology for themselves.
Some take it in for what it is, to them, building an experience for themselves.
Others use it as a set, building memories for themselves.
Some live and breathe it, piggybacking art upon art for themselves.
Some are fascinated, building a psyche for themselves.
Some are inspired by it, building art of their own for themselves.
There are far more reactions to art than those depicted here. Is there a common thread ? Art is magnetic. It attracts and repulses according to our own psychological polarities. Artists are magnetic. In fact, all creators are magnetic, each with their own power and type. Much like bloggers, youtubers, instagrammers arount which some followers congregate. Some are extremely powerful and shallow, as is typical of the large social accounts, drawing in huge crowds in search of easy amusement and cheap dreams. Others are more polarising and deep, such as Hiroshi Sugimoto, appealing to a far tinier crowd, but appealing strongly and deeply enough to command 300 grand prices for new prints.
I was struck by two events last week. Once was Ming Thein’s article about Paul’s recent Monday Post, the detailed analysis and very intellectual relationship to photography, both in the text and in many comments. Ming has a brilliant mind and a deliberate approach to what is essentially his work. His creativity is powerful but kept in check by even stronger purpose and intent. His readers probably share that dominantly convergent thinking. My approach to photography is much more instinctual, divergent and recreational. I try to help, open minds, open doorways, but not to educate and this shows in DS’ tongue in cheek tone, both in articles and in comments. Two magnetic sources dealing with photography, yet very little community intersection. The second event was our recent collective post on influential masters, which clearly laid before our eyes the huge differences in styles and inspiration between us. All those masters are beacons that have (often subconsciously) guided us to where we are now. Such is the magnetic role of artists and art.
What matters most is that we are all universally drawn to art. We love some, hate other stuff, can’t wrap our minds around some, collect other stuff … It’s a major driver in most people’s life, whether they recognise / admit to it or not.
Dear Diary Moment: As a kid, I really loved art, but from afar. It was always something pleasing, deeply satisfying to watch, but artists were artists and there was a chasm between Picasso, Chagall or Klimt and what I could one day become (a doctor, a teacher, an accountant). Artists were artists, not people. Now that amateur photography occupies such a large part of my life, I don’t think anything could have been more fulfilling to me than to have become a successful artist (not that I’m doing or have ever done anything to help achieve that goal 😉 ). And I think most people (even many strugling for their lives, as shown by the art inside concentration camps) have a relationship with art that’s just as strong as mine. Some just hide it from themselves for a really long time. Sometimes, sadly, all of their life.
So, this is what this post is about. A series of portraits of people. Not in a street, not in a studio, but reacting to the creative work of others. You can’t be more naked than that. There you have it. DS’ first nudes.
Right now, are you puking at reading this, or having an epiphany? Most likely something in between but I’m hoping you’re feeling something about your own relationship to art. Are you?
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