Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Those Who Can't Do, Appreciate

Reason, Romanticism

At Not PC, Peter Cresswell posts about this painting by Jacob Collins:

I love a still life by an artist who practice realism. Linda Mann is one of my favorite present-day artists, and the Quent Cordair gallery offers some fine works in that category. Collins's Drawing is a magnificent instance of the form.

All my life, I've been able to grasp any activity I see, in almost every field. I'm not just talking about understanding, but executing as well. There has always been a direct connection between my comprehension of something and the performance of it. Sometimes it takes some practice, and I'm certainly never a virtuoso, but I've always been able to immediately connect the understanding in my mind with the actions of my body. For me, in nearly every case, to observe something is to understand it, and to understand it is to be able to do it. Not with the knowledge and skill of a master right away, to be sure, but without requiring much, if any, instruction. I can watch a sport I've never played, or listen to a song I've never heard before, or watch a mechanic fix something on a car I've never fixed before, and in the space of a few minutes be playing that sport, singing that song, or fixing that car, and doing so quite well. It's like that for me with just about any activity.

But art confounds me.

Beyond the approximate level of stick figures, I cannot make the connection between what I see and how I would go about creating something similar. Looking at Collins's Drawing, beyond perceiving the benevolent world his sense of life and choice of subject display, I see his profound technical expertise. But I cannot translate that into action: it would be impossible for me to create even a crude imitation of that work, or any other.1 This inability extends into other realms that use artistic methods as well—I could hack together something vaguely resembling a table, but even to save my life I couldn't craft anything remotely like this:

It's not a matter of understanding. I know something of the techniques used to create various kinds of artwork, and I know how and why artists use them. But I cannot do what they do. When it comes to art, I cannot make my hands do what my mind knows. For a long time this prevented me from appreciating art, and I spent little time with it. Eventually I realized how much I had been missing, and I learned how to value art without being able to create it myself.

I'm not one of those who stands in awe of anything beyond their capacity simply because it's beyond their capacity. Even more so, I am most definitely not like those who despise both what they cannot do and those who can. It would be nice if I could do what artists do, but there are things in my life more important to me than that, and those are the things on which I expend life. I am very glad, however, that there are people for whom creating art is what's important, because they make my life the brighter. Thank you, Mr. Collins.

1I have no doubt I could splatter paint on a canvas or carve a rock into a bizarre shape or smother a banana in feces but, despite the claims of so many who do that sort of thing, that is not art.

Back to top

No comments: