By Leslie D. Soule
So what is “art”, exactly? Some would argue that it is the product of a person’s creativity and self-expression, shown in a visual format of some kind. Good art, it is said, is controversial. Art is meant to challenge you on a personal level. Recently in Sacramento, there has been a series of paintings that has created quite a stir in the local news. The artist, Maren Conrad, has created a series of paintings in a show called “Politically Vulnerable”. The paintings feature ex-wives and ex-lovers of politicians. A local lobbyist, Donne Brownsey, demanded that the paintings be taken down immediately, and the owner of the local nightclub did just that.
One cannot help but wonder what Brownsey’s motivation was. It is as though she believes, perhaps subconsciously, that when an artist sets about to create a piece of work, the subject matter is highly revered – in this case, infidelity. I can certainly see where she may have come to this conclusion. However, following the same train of thought, one would conclude that Picasso must have seen the bombing of the town of Guernica with reverence. However, this was most definitely not the case.
“Guernica” is arguably Picasso’s greatest work, and according to Wikipedia, “It was created in response to the bombing of Guernica, a Basque Country village in northern Spain by German and Italian warplanes at the behest of the Spanish Nationalist forces, on 26 April 1937, during the Spanish Civil War.” It portrays images of people screaming in agony, falling over themselves and broken, with light diffused into shards. Picasso uses art to show the horror of warfare, and the tragedy of the bombing. This is a great example of a controversial piece of work, and the moral that we can draw from it, which is, “Art (except, of course, as used in advertisements) does not equal endorsement”.
If one looks at a painting merely as endorsing the image it portrays, this is not altogether wrong, but it is certainly a shallow interpretation of a piece of work which is probably worthy of a deeper interpretation. An example of when an artist pokes fun at this idea is with the painting titled “The Treachery of Images” by French artist Rene’ Magritte. I am a fan of Magritte’s surrealistic work, which features scenes of altered realities. In this particular painting, we see a pipe, and underneath the pipe, in French, the words “Ceci n’est pas une pipe”. Translated into English, this phrase reads, “This is not a pipe.” Taken altogether, the painting suggests that there is more to its existence than what meets the eye.
Henry David Thoreau wrote that, “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” So when you look at an artistic piece, what is it that you’re really seeing? Is it only the subject matter or the surface material, or something more?
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