Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A Catholic in the Art Museum

So, two Sundays ago, I went to the Indianapolis Museum of Art with the family.  Lovely place, full of art and artistic people.  I had been there several times before, and its always been a perplexing place for me.  Why?  Because, art is perplexing.  Or more accurately, our definition of art is perplexing.  You see, I walk into an art museum and expect to see something like this:

St. Dominic and the Devil  by Pietro della Vecchia

And not something like this:

Tawara Yūsaku, Untitled, 11.2, from Boh Boh (Vastness) series, 1993.
What the hell is it?

And yet, in the IMA, both are art.  Or at least they would be by today's standards.  Bring the latter of the two into Vecchia's studio and tell him that you're holding art, and he'd laugh and chase you out into the Italian gutters.

So, my inner philosopher asked:  What constitutes art?  To what point can we say "This, this is art, and ought to be on display" or "This is utter bullcrap and shouldn't even be displayed on the refrigerator door."  I could make that same black smudge on canvas, give some mumbo-jumbo explanation of it, and it is doubtable I'd be hailed as a celebrated artist and put on display.  After pondering for a while, here is my philosophical conclusions about art:

1.  Art requires discipline. 

No one sees a 5 year old's artwork on display at a museum, no matter how pretty their mom has told them it is.  Why?  Because a 5 yr old is not disciplined enough to make genuine, display-worthy art.  Art requires a demonstration of skill, of talent refined by countless moments of practice, patience, and skill-honing discipline.

2.  Art requires purpose.

One of the greatest crimes against art is making art for absolutely no reason.  Art ought to reflect something, to image something previously unseen, to shape something out of nothing, to reflect a truth about the world without or the world within.  When we make art that doesn't reflect that purpose, or doesn't reflect it in some plausible way (i.e. not a black inkblot on paper that's supposedly meant to reflect the rhythm of the universe.) it ceases to hold artistic value.

3.  Art requires beauty.

This is the one that is probably going to get me in trouble.  If you take a walk through many modern art exhibits, they tend to lack beauty.  Rather, they've supplemented it with absurdity or grotesqueness.  And that's not to say many beautiful works of art in the past are not also somewhat absurd, or grotesque, but even in their absurdity and grotesqueness, there was a beauty about them.

In conclusion, I learned something about the purpose of art (or at least, of genuinely good art.)  Art is the reflection of a mind.  That's why we don't find sheer chaotic things to be artistic; they have no mind reflected in them.  Most art reflects, primarily, a human mind.  Truly great art, however, reflects the Divine Mind, however small or minute a reflection it might be.

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