Aesthete & Amateur 9: Seeking Visual Enlightenment
Fictitious on-going series of gallery reviews by a credentialed art critic, Eleanor Medier, and her less-than-professional (and proud of it) husband, Heavy Writer. This episode builds from the last issue.)
Sometimes when Heavy goes fishing, I go along. Though I don’t like to fish and he throws back most anyway, we both enjoy getting away. So I plan my dock-reading, pack my oldest high heels and newest jeans, then recharge my computer batteries.
After months of showing Heavy great art, he still does not understand abstraction. This is due either to a flaw in my teaching ability, or in his inability to comprehend. Responding to abstract form may be impossible to teach.
What comprises visual literacy?
• Aesthetics—whether the artist intends an image to be beautiful or disturbing, most people enjoy art for its appearance. Color is the first trigger, then scale, composition, and identifying the subject.
• Context—emphasis, dichotomy, contrast, and tension contribute to visual power. If there is no contrast or conflict, the work is easy to forget.
• Construction—craftsmanship and execution skills can delight and impress, separate from content portrayed. Mastery means combining a strong idea with an affecting delivery, To understand formalism such as figure/ground, perspective, proportions, and depth all increase appreciation.
• Symbolism—literal thinking assigns recognizable references to forms, such as interpreting a yellow circle as a “sun.” Non-literal thinking accepts the yellow circle as a warm form contrasted against its background, which could signify overwhelmed if the circle is small or powerful if the circle is large. The literal assigns meaning, the nonliteral assigns feeling. Are the two views mutually exclusive?
Heavy can discuss aesthetics, context, construction, but if he can’t identify the form as a shape or a riddle, he waves off the work. To convey my point of a more refined and suspended visual appreciation will require drastic action. Sitting on the pier, I contemplate a book on Victor Vasarely. Who can deny the beauty or mastery of these works?
The last time we were here on the island, I was mad at Heavy because he sold a painting from my collection, using the money for his garage. To get even, and teach him a lesson, I sunk his old fishing boat—with him on it. He had to swim back to our dock, which did not make him very receptive to intellectual pursuits. And, it didn’t knock any sense into him, either. So, I need to focus him again on aesthetic understanding.
Seeking the perfect abstract work for Heavy’s potential enlightenment, I strike a deal with artist DanCoyote for a perfect sculpture! Then I set up a new platform complete with mountains and sand to match the artist’s installation. Unfortunately, the garden is now inventoried to make room. Heavy will notice that. so I place the new aquisition in an “off” state.
When ready, I cheerfully teleport Heavy to this new sanctuary. He blinks, but, he only can see a small stage. I asked him to click on the gold marker, and a triangle, with a circle inside, appears. I had spent a few hours experimenting, so I take over and click triangles, building a beautiful composition.
Within a minute of watching a composition form, Heavy blurts: “This is a puzzle—a pyramid prim copied over and over again at every click.”
Eleanor: “Yes, the viewer can build it. So, it does remind of a puzzle or a modular toy, which makes it friendly, more accessible.”
Heavy: “Is this art? What is the creative part of the artist?”
Eleanor: “The artist makes the basic aesthetic decisions. He controls the parameters: scale, structure, colors, connections, possibilities. He gives the viewer participation, but limited control, It is elegant in its simplicity and is visually intriguing.”
Heavy: “You are seduced by a old SL gadget. What is the creation part of the artist if everyone uses the sculpture on his own?”
Eleanor: “The interactivity of SL allows a sculpture motion, and can included the viewer. The modules are like syllables in a visual language The shape combinations are expressive: confronting, open, closed, loops, even recognizable forms. It uses illusion and space.”
Heavy: “Materials to be used to create art is not art, and this artist offers a material so anyone can create structures with it. Is the manufacturer who makes paint an artist because he has made the colors others use?”
Eleanor: “Color selections are part of the art creating process. The manufacturer makes the paint, but the artist chooses the colors to use.”
Heavy: “Is the Lego company artistic because each kid can build objects using their pieces?”
Eleanor: “Legos are a material, and many artists incorporate them. If I use Legos to create a skyline for part of my sculpture, the Legos become part of my artistic statement.”
Heavy: “Glass is beautiful too. It doesn’t mean everything made from glass is art. Is the one who invented the glass is artist?”
Eleanor: “No, but if someone makes glass squares that have strategic arrangements, and an organic visual quality, yes, I call that art. If the result is a pretty drinking glass, I call that craft. Does it not the end result matter?”
Heavy: “You need to create something original to be called art. This piece gives the possibility to create artistic structures, as any material offers. In this case, the artists are the people clicking and creating the structures, not the one who set up the material so you can create with its pieces. This is more like a toy; each toy has boundaries. Each material has limits. I’ve given you enough arguments why this piece is not art :), but you don’t want to see them. It is a fun colorful setup. So what?”
Eleanor: “Are not ‘artistic structures’ art? The artist is more involved in this piece than the designers of Legos are in building. Dancoyote set up the structure and determined that pieces only fit together in a specified way, with these colors in this size—he made decisions the viewer does not get to make. And it is never the same, (it would be nice if versions could be saved). But, for a viewer to customize does not change the essential visual language of the piece.”
Heavy: “He set some building rules—bricks are square, so you have to work with those squares.”
Eleanor: “So if the sculpture did not move, if the artist set it up in one arrangement only, then it is art? But if, as a viewer, I can arrange it, then it is not art?”
Heavy: “It is like he hands you a big pile of pieces and he dares you to build stuff with them.”
Eleanor: “Actually, you can do a lot more with Legos than what this sculpture can do. Legos are just loose pieces. This is not a bunch of triangles laying around.”
Heavy: “Am I changing your mind?”
Eleanor: “No, this has parameters that a game or toy does not impose. Maybe I am changing your mind!”
Heavy: “No you haven’t, This is just a game, a toy to create structures. Where is the statue? I see random pieces. Maybe it has a coding in how they combine to make a pleasant design, like pieces in a frame, and you need to create in that frame.”
Eleanor: “A static arrangement is no more of a sculpture than one to move and involve the viewer. It is more like: here is a frame with a shape. If you move right, it turns blue, if you move left, it turns green. so you choose the color by where you stand, but only blue or green.”
Heavy: “He created a tool to create art. You won’t change my mind. So let’s agree to disagree on this one. I know you are stubborn. And, I’m really surprised you see this is as art.”
Eleanor: “I am surprised you don’t. It goes far beyond a tool, dear. Though it is simple and geometric, it can be a dynamic expression of shape, place, vibrancy, and composition.”
Heavy: “What you just said can be put in the puzzle instructions.”
Eleanor: “So which would make you more angry: 1. If I bought the sculpture to replace our garden, or 2. If I bought a few Vasarely paintings?”
Heavy: “Better to buy Vasarely. I don’t like him either, but he’s better than Albers. And, if you buy the sculpture, I will just return it to your inventory. It will ruin my morning view while drinking coffee on the balcony. And to cut grass around that toy will make me mad.”
Eleanor presents him with a receipt and an inventory list: “Well, I had to put the whole garden away, and the sculpture was very expensive too.”
Heavy glances at the garden list but his eyes focus on the bottom of the receipt, and he gasps: “We could have gone on a cruise around the world with that money!”
Eleanor considers that option, but refuses to be distracted from the main point of teaching Heavy the fine points of aesthetic judgement.
Heavy is so furious about how much I spent on the sculpture without asking him first (would he have said ‘yes’ if I asked him first??), he storms off. I know he is going to the fishing island, which certainly is better than drinking with his biker friends. To reward him for his predictability, and because I still feel guilty about sinking his old one, I bought him a new boat! Docked at the island, I hope when he finds it, he will be pleased.
However, when he discovers that I spent all of our savings on the sculpture and the boat, he probably won’t be too happy. To distract him from the practical will be easy when he discovers the Vasarely paintings occupying the main cabin of his new boat. But, purchasing those did max out our credit cards, So I wonder how long I can hide that.
— Eleanor Medier, art critic
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Liane Sebastian wears an editor’s hat, designer’s coat, and artist’s shoes.
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