Tuesday, October 13, 2015
In the first episode of a four part documentary, John Berger's Ways of Seeing talks about how the reproduction of art, afforded by cameras, have changed the ways we see these works. We view paintings out of their contexts, in the comfort of our homes. We view them along with other images, e.g. in a magazine, on our social media feed, and these contexts come to change the meanings we imbue to these paintings.
Berger also suggests that art is often mystified. The obvious interpretations of works of art are replaced by ones that are relayed to us through museum brochures or Wiki pages. Mystification makes these works of art feel remote as it forces us to accept one interpretation that is often presented by a privileged minority.
I love art but I can't pinpoint why. More often than not, it's an emotional connection. But I was afraid of people approaching me to ask, 'Why do you like this? What does it mean?'. The problem was that I don't know what the art is implying. If my memory doesn't fail me, I can impress you with the learned interpretation from art history classes and books. But I don't like these works of art by the way they have been defined. I like a Botticelli for the colours, for the way he paints textiles especially. I love a Rothko for the emotion I receive when I look at it. The works in the Rothko chapel are supposed to bring one to a meditative state or even some form of religious enlightenment, but those dark works just made me feel sorrow and nothing else. I felt so depressed when I sat in the centre of the black paintings.
Art is not reserved for the elites. Interpretation of art works is not reserved for the elites as well. You can just view it as it is, appreciate it for whatever element that intrigues you. I remember my art history teacher mentioning that he likes to view the art before reading the artwork's label. Perhaps his education would have already affected his interpretation, but I like how he's still trying to stay open and true to what he sees and how he feels. I will still appreciate the accepted interpretation as it does provide a better context of the work, but it's okay to not comprehend it and it's okay to not see a connection between the art and the information provided. That shouldn't ruin your experience of art.
Art has the immense capability to inspire creativity, to open conversations. So no one should be afraid that they don't see art the way it should be seen. Because there's no one way to see it. Our ways of seeing will be different because of our different backgrounds and the contexts that we are viewing it in. Don't overwhelm or trap yourself into one way of seeing.