May 20, 2009

My colleague in art unexpectedly said to me that he no longer liked women’s faces in art.  In jest I asked if he was becoming a misogynist, and we talked further.

He clarified that some faces were ok, maybe just the faces that were fashionable or just beautiful were objectionable…”this one is ok and I like that one all right” as he pointed to women’s faces that suggested natural states, universality or expression.  “Not just a pretty face” was my interpretation of what he was conveying.

It made me think about why we like what we like in art.  Do the emotional responses change in light of education and experience?

When I go to a museum, I don’t like to use the headphones that tell you about each work. I first want to have a personal, uneducated response to the art before I delve into knowing about the artist or the circumstances of what he is saying or why she used the imagery she did.

One time I went to the MOMA and I saw the work of Cy Twombly.  One piece in particular drew my attention, but I didn’t “get it”.  I thought about it often.   While studying the work of photographer Harry Callahan, a photo of grasses emerging through the snow connected me to that painting.  I then understood what Twombly was saying to me. That moment helped me to define one of my emotional responses to art.  The wonder and underlying essence of nature speaks to me in art…the abstracted concepts, patterns and secrets of what is happening dynamically in the natural world. When I witness those concepts in a two or three-dimensional representation, it is as sublime as the nature itself.

I have studied, written about and taught art for many years.  With education comes appreciation and understanding. But I am talking about the emotional response…what really turns one on or off about art. To discover and define those aspects is epiphanic and revealing.

So when my colleague told me about the faces of women, he was just reinforcing what I already knew about him, he has a true respect for women. His personal art collection is full of women, real and expressive women.  Maybe experiences and education recently reinforced that revelation. It was his emotional response to art that he was declaring. And what are emotional responses except unexplained forces of nature that happen dynamically.

And I believe it an apt metaphor for art itself…Not just a pretty picture, but a personal response to what is significant in one’s own life.


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