Sunday, September 23

Approaching art

Until late January, I'm studying in Munich, Germany. This marks the first time I have ever spent a significant amount of time in a city where there is not a museum or a gallery but multitudes, over 60 galleries and 20 art museums or institutions. One Euro entrance fees on Sunday make it all the more beautiful. This is kind of a big deal. Needless to say, I have been and am going to take advantage of it to the max before my departure. Last weekend was Open Art, an initiative by the city arts council which resulted in free entrance to all, extended hours, and hors d'oeuvres in the final two galleries I visited. Today I hit up the Pinakotek Moderne for the design gallery and photography exhibition, "Humanism in China."

Visiting these places and seeing all that they have to offer and being only a novice appreciator of the visual arts has caused me to wonder what the best way to come to art is. Is it better to be utterly unfamiliar with the field and movements that a piece was created within, a master in the medium, an amateur who has feet in both worlds or even something completely different that I failed to consider?

My initially, my thoughts were in favor of having more than a cursory knowledge of the field and perhaps having dabbled a little bit oneself if not making it a serious hobby, much less a career. Only enough to keep the fool from saying, "I could do that if I wanted to." Maybe a few months of casual study or reading of several books on the field of art and experience with comparable pieces. Prepared with this specific awareness, one could do more than say, "It's pretty" or "It looks like ..." With a practiced awareness, one could recognize truly creative works or fascinating new syntheses and recognize the magnitude of such. Even if the works are not on that scale, one should still know enough to tell one a piece is blatantly ripping off another and no effort has been expended at all.

But then this thought occurred to me following a reading of the blogs on Top Chef kept by the Anthony Bourdain, a frequent guest judge. I watched a few episodes and have kept up online in this way since losing access to American TV. It's such a strange feeling to see him tear into the individual contestants and explain exactly what failed with their respective dishes, how they were some of the most unpalatable things he has ever had to face, but still be aware that I will never have the skill of the participants and would probably melt if I tasted even the vilely decried curry. Part of this may be part of his language. Because he is so familiar with the subject, he can say something like "The balance of acids in their ceviche left me to seriously questioning they had ever used lemon juice before," while I would be straining myself to say, "It's too salty."

And that's where this nagging thought is founded. He has a developed palate. For the most part, I don't. You put it in front of me, and I'll eat it. There is a lot more food that I'm going to enjoy than he is. Though he may be able to better enjoy the best foods more than me, I don't have to be picky. He doesn't want to finish it? I will and be satisfied. So what if I can't detect the subtle fragrance of saffron in a fine tomato soup, much less appreciate it? The chef may be disappointed that their extra skill and care go for naught, but I'm content.

The problem now is further questions precede this one and demand answer first. What is the appropriate relationship between the artist/chef/writer/sculptor/actor/whatever and their audience? Should the audience look to meet the artist at their level or the artist the people? Is it even possible to control this? Should art be simple or complex? How much is too simple? Too complex?

And, ultimately, what is the ideal of art? Pure aesthetics? Revelation of emotion? A challenge to the audience?

I promise to write on these things, but don't be expecting them anytime soon. I've been thinking on them for months now and still have yet to find the faintest idea that satisfies me.

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