A good friend who is an art teacher uses an abstract painting by Wassily Kandinsky as the background image on his computer. Upon seeing the image, a student made the dismissive comment that it was not the kind of image he would want hanging on his wall. Certainly, not everyone should be expected to like every kind of art, but such comments serve to highlight an unfortunate outcome of the lack of art education in much of what we call the developed world, ironically referring to those parts of the world where people live in relative comfort and can afford to invest time in the appreciation of art, but prefer to succumb to ease rather than make a conscious investment of intellect and time in such things as art, even when great rewards may be at stake.
Among those art books in my library that I return to often and that are rife with highlights of memorable passages is Wassily Kandinsky’s Concerning the Spiritual in Art. Reading it helped shape some of my own thinking about art and greatly amplified my appreciation for Kandinsky’s work. In a larger context, Kandinsky’s art and philosophy, once better understood, provided me with a means of enjoying art that I would otherwise not have. And so, at least in a small way, they made my life a little better and more enjoyable. And I, too, most likely will not hang his work on my wall.
Some art should be enjoyed in context, and not necessarily as a prominent and persistent presence in one’s life. This is an important distinction. Just because a certain kind of art is not something you want to see large and in your face every day, or just because someone else’s art is not the same as the art that you choose to make, doesn’t mean that it cannot still add value, interest and joy to your life.
Consider that it rarely matters to an artist, and certainly not to a deceased one, whether you or I want to hang their work on our walls. Their experience and well-being will not change as a result, but yours and mine certainly may. And so the choice becomes a simple one: investing in understanding art, whether aesthetically pleasing at first sight or not, can only make your experience better. Between that and indifference, why would anyone with the time and intellect to do so choose not to make such an investment?
The most popular art is, understandably, easy to relate to and requires little investment of time or effort to appreciate. Such art can be evaluated quickly according to simplistic criteria for how pretty it is, how interesting the subject matter, and how skilfully and accurately it is portrayed. But, to limit your appreciation of art to these criteria is like limiting your enjoyment of eating to just snacks and fast food. Your palette, both culinary and aesthetic, has the power to provide you with much richer and more nuanced pleasures.
When you get over the wall and set your sensibilities free rather than limit them to easy and predictable templates, you also learn the great joys possible when not just seeing art but also experiencing it and finding meaning in it, in a great variety of ways. When you learn to derive value and pleasure from such experiences, art can make your life richer, independent of any practical choice of how to decorate your living or working spaces. Moreover, as your understanding grows, you may even become motivated to create new kinds of art yourself, and extend your creative, inspired experiences into realms that were not available to you before, whether someone wants the resulting work on their wall or not. Why would anyone not want to reap such rewards?
Read this and many more articles in High Definition inside Issue 53 of Landscape Photography Magazine.