Don't Force Symbolism
October 17, 2013 4:21 PM   Subscribe

How to Look at Art. An illustration and post by Incidental Comics' Grant Snider. Previously.
posted by Apropos of Something (15 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
How to Look at an Artist.
posted by the sobsister at 5:01 PM on October 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

The visual inspiration for the drawing was the sculpture park at The Nelson -Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, one of the best places to spend a fall afternoon.

I thought the building looked familiar.
posted by hellojed at 5:03 PM on October 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

It says it's a 10 part series, where's the rest of it? Is it a work in progress?
posted by bleep at 6:32 PM on October 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Eat mushrooms.
posted by nathancaswell at 7:02 PM on October 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

It says it's a 10 part series, where's the rest of it? Is it a work in progress? provides links to 8 of them (... maybe more in the future ?)
posted by southof40 at 7:28 PM on October 17, 2013

A while ago I drew a cartoon of a couple contemplating a Donald Judd, on telling the other "It's a cube, honey. It doesn't mean shit."

People who aren't familiar with art sometimes tie themselves in knots trying to figure out "what does it MEAN?"

They psych themselves out of the personal experience of really enjoying art, of finding personal resonance with the work, because they feel like it's something they need some kind of specialized qualification to appreciate.
posted by louche mustachio at 7:28 PM on October 17, 2013

It says it's a 10 part series, where's the rest of it? Is it a work in progress? provides links to 8 of them (... maybe more in the future ?)'s browsing interface is kind of not very good. Here is the full list in reverse chronological order. "How to Look at Art" is the final one; there won't be any more in this series. However, if you want more of Grant Snider's comics you can follow his blog, Incidental Comics, linked to in the FPP.
posted by narain at 7:45 PM on October 17, 2013

So I have a question. For as long as I can remember I wanted to be a gangster when I've looked at abstract art of any kind my brain forces concrete meaning on to the piece. Everything, no matter how abstract, becomes a sort of Jackson Pollock rorschach test.

Am I doing it wrong?
posted by Gin and Comics at 8:11 PM on October 17, 2013

when I've looked at abstract art of any kind my brain forces concrete meaning on to the piece (I've struggled with this too, and was relieved/refreshed by in the title of this post re: symbolism.)

I think the art education I've experienced has emphasized "looking for a deeper meaning/context" as MORE important than how a piece resonates with me personally. This comic seems like a good reminder to balance both.

Also, what louche mustachio said :)
posted by warm_planet at 8:40 PM on October 17, 2013

I think abstract art can be a Mandelbrot of sorts - the original idea was to escape the limitations of experienced reality and explore what things are in the world via play and reproduction (or inspiring an experience, in the case of some conceptual art). The problem is, as the theory behind why an artist is doing something becomes more complex and abstruse, the value in art seems to be found in their explanation of it more than in the art itself.

Part of the problem might be commercialization - having to commercialize something inspires people to build hierarchies and categories for what is "good" or worth money and what is "bad" or not worth money. The problem is, with the most complex and abstruse stuff, the explanations are word salad to most people and the art may or may not communicate to the viewer the web of thoughts and feelings the artist is trying to capture (and there are bunches of people trying to game the system because they need to eat - but I prefer to assume good faith in general).

So you end up in a situation where things are increasingly valued not for what they inspire in the people experiencing them, but rather for the story behind it - which honestly was most likely always true, but before there were solid, craftspersonlike means of making money and artist were valued as creative people who did what they were hired to do, but there wasn't this expectation of rarefied sensibilities and a dedication to ideas over matter which seems to be expected of artists in general, even while it remains true that artists need to eat.

In other words, the ideas become the saleable item, and the people and things which result are largely incidental. This goes along with an increasing sense I've noticed that art meant for sale is somehow "lesser" despite the fact that most of what we consider Masterworks today were ordered by Patrons and delivered as requested.

The idea of art being the most important part of it is actually true with other art, too, and is why forgery is such a big deal - humans view The First Instance Of Something very differently than we do These Copies Of Something even if the copies are identical in every way to the original. Likewise, the first "this is not a pipe" painting, or breakdown of art into cubes and lines, or toilet in a gallery are is valued, unique, "Art", but the second through three hundredth is approaching punchline (and eventually used as a reason to dismiss conceptual art).

One of the ideas behind placing normal items as art pieces is this idea that art is really where we look for it; that putting time and attention into something transforms it in some essential way through the imbuing of meaning.

I'm more of a surrealism girl myself, especially hyper-surrealism, but I'm grateful to the art teacher who beat an appreciation of conceptual art into my head.
posted by Deoridhe at 9:51 PM on October 17, 2013 [5 favorites]

Gin and Comics, you are gonna find people who would agree with you, people who would agree that you are doing it wrong, people who would debate over whether the meaning of a work is properly determined, by the artist, the viewer, or the critic, or whether or not the whole lot of them are just a bunch of over-educated con men dazzling the public with senseless BS. Is illustration art? Are comic books art? Is Jeff Koons paying someone else to make a sculpture of him bumping uglies with Ciccolina art?...
It's what makes arguing about art fun!
posted by Trinity-Gehenna at 9:58 PM on October 17, 2013

Hyper-Surrealism! Thanks for pointing out new things to look at, Deoridhe! A Google image search pulled up a lot of freaky pictures, the most uniquely unnerving of which was probably this.
Some things are just too new and exciting for me.
posted by Trinity-Gehenna at 10:14 PM on October 17, 2013

How to Look at an Artist.

LOL I remember seeing that work at the Ad Reinhardt retrospective at LA MOCA in 1991. I wrote my own little essay about that exhibit:

How To Look At Art
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:17 AM on October 18, 2013

Everything, no matter how abstract, becomes a sort of Jackson Pollock rorschach test.

One way to approach an abstract piece is to see it as a Rorschach test-- but for your feelings, not for concrete representations. That is, try taking in the piece and asking, "What do I feel?" Rather than "What do I see?"

As a very simplified example: On a purely aesthetic level (i.e., ignoring the "flowers" and "easter eggs" your representational mind wants to see), you likely wouldn't describe a piece like this one having a "dark" or "brooding" feel to it. Just the colors, the boldness of the lines, the overall "motion" and "vitality" of the piece lend a generally happy, upbeat feel to it, don't you think?

Looking at the piece in this way, pay attention to the part of your brain that leads you to assess the "mood" the piece as happy, as opposed to angry or sad. That's the "muscle" you're trying to develop. Don't beat yourself up for seeing the flowers or whatever concrete objects you pick up on--even in abstract art, picking up on the references to concrete objects is valuable--just try to work that "mood muscle." Not to conflate abstract art with high culture too much with this analogy, but it's like developing a taste for fine wine-- it just takes some attention and practice.

If you're looking for more practical ways to stop yourself from seeing "too much," you could just try standing back a little further from the piece and taking it in as a whole before moving in close. Squinting so that the concrete elements blur a little might help too. Even just allowing yourself to daydream a little in front of a piece might allow you to disengage your "concrete object" brain temporarily.
posted by Rykey at 9:28 AM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

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