All art is subjective. That is, it is open to interpretation. Any/everyone who looks at, listens to, experiences in any way, any piece of art experiences it in their own way, based on their own specific knowledge, emotional state, age, socio-economic background, taste &c. There are innumerable factors that influence how art is received. No single interpretation can ever be said to be the “right” one. No interpretation can ever be said to be “wrong”.
That seems straight forward, enough. I don’t think anyone would argue with that. Yet, very few people actually act as if they believe that. Most people approach art tentatively and apologetically, if at all.
I was drawing in public recently when a friend approached me and started talking about art. (I draw in public places occasionally because I like to draw and I happen to be in public places once in a while. People approaching me to talk about art is an annoyance I’ve learned to deal with.) My friend is intelligent and educated, possessing no little experience of the world. He has travelled extensively and his late brother was an artist whose works have been displayed at major museums. The other day, though, when he asked to see what I was drawing, he acted like he was a total ignoramus, explaining that he was incapable of looking at art “the right way”. I have a sermonette for such occasions, but I usually don’t bother to deliver it anymore. I’ve given up the conceit that I can convince people that there is no “right way” to look at art. Anymore, I just say “Well, there ya are” and wait for the conversation to end.
I’ve never had that. I’ve always experienced art through my own eyes and I’ve always felt perfectly justified in stating my interpretation with confidence. I love Norman Rockwell, Jackson Pollack, Mark Rothko, Andy Warhol, Vincent Van Gogh, Jean Dubuffet, Egon Schiele, Nick Blinko, Henry Darger, Wassily Kandinsky, Gustave Klimt, Robert Rauschenberg and many more. The art of indigenous peoples never fails to impress me, whether it’s modern Australian aborigines, prehistoric cave dwellers or post-conquest Native Americans. Countless crazies have produced amazing art. Even run of the mill bad art can be astounding. I have no desire or inclination to hedge my opinions on any work of art or act like I’m unqualified to love it. (I’m a bit of an opinionated bastard in all things.) I have at various points got all up in someone’s face when they shit-talked Warhol or Pollack, the two modern artists who are most likely to be shit-talked. I have also launched into free-form tirades against Matthew Barney, Damien Hirst, Jean-Michel Basquiat and a bunch of other arts-holes who I forget. I remember artists I like better than ones I don’t. I like what I like and I don’t like what I don’t like. I don’t like Picasso, though I do recognize his importance. Same goes for Dali.
Sometimes, when I say something like “Goya was better than Raphael”, someone says something like “Well, that’s your opinion”, to which I say something like “Of course it’s my opinion. What else could it be?” because that’s what any qualitative statement about art is: an opinion. Mine is no more nor less valid than any other ignorant asshole’s.
I’ve been focusing on visual artists, but the same holds for musicians. Bob Dylan is not better than Roky Erickson. The Beatles are not better than Saddhu Brand. The White Stripes are not better than Acid Eater. Sylvan Esso is not better than The Big Drum In The Sky Religion. It is not possible for anyone to argue otherwise. If anyone tries to, they will inevitably argue that one is more popular than the other, which is not the same thing. The fact that many people like something doesn’t make it better than something they don’t know about.
Still, many people do believe that the popularity of an idea counts for something. And a lot of people make a shitload of money from that fallacy. I’d like to see the end of that. I’d like to be part of the process of convincing everyone to rely on their own judgment when it comes to matters of taste in art, music, poetry, interpretive dance &c. Overcoming the current tendency of individuals to abdicate their own authority to self-proclaimed experts will be no small job, but I think I’ve figured out how: give them more authoritative proof. And what proof is more authoritative than popular opinion?
Mathematics. Yep, that’s right. For some reason, the vast majority of people believe that if something can be proved mathematically, it must be true, even though the vast majority of people don’t know how to find the area of a square. Popular opinion gives mathematical proof greater credence than popular opinion.
So, what I need then, is someone to work through the tedious, yet boring, process of developing the mathematical proof. I’d do it myself, but I have anything else to do. I am, of course, willing to assist the friendless pencil-neck who takes on this task. Just email me through the usual channels.
I want to be crystal clear on this: when I say no one’s opinion on any given work of art is more valid than anyone else’s, I’m including the creator of the work. Gustave Courbet’s opinion about “L'Origine du monde” is no more valid or right than my own. And that goes double for that imbecile who taught that art appreciation class I took when I was shopping for an easy A at community college. (I got the A, but being told how to appreciate art made me hate art for a while.) Another example: Edvard Munch’s “Der Schrei der Natur“, generally known in the States as “The Scream“, is an extremely popular work. Everyone knows it. Everyone knows what it depicts. The fact that Edvard Munch wasn’t painting what everyone thinks he was painting, ie. a screaming person on a bridge, doesn’t matter a’tall. The painting means what it means to whoever ascribes meaning to it and that’s all there is to it.
Brown Hat the Espresso Shaman
The pun is always intended.