Art is a Language - Part 2
Why do some works of art have the ability to bring us to tears while other works go unnoticed? Why am I drawn to some artworks while you are attracted to others? What makes truly great art is its ability to communicate on some level with viewers. For communication to take place, both the artist and the viewer need to engage in the conversation. Communication is not one sided. The artist needs to have something to say. The viewer also needs to have something to say. ‘Listening’ is likewise important in good communication. I will define listening as an attempt to understand and gain deeper insights through observation and study.
Today we will discuss the viewers’ side of artistic communication. Next week we will discuss what an artist’s role is in the communication process.
First, I would like to illustrate a point. Let’s try an experiment. Dear reader, close your eyes. . . ok, now open them (ha, your eyes weren’t closed were they?!). Actually, read the next paragraph and then close your eyes for a few minutes.
Think about your favorite place in the world. Is it the beach? Your childhood home? Your grandparents’ farm? The park where you fell in love? Wherever it is, think about that place. Try to picture it in your mind. Try to go there for a few minutes.
. . . are your eyes closed?
Now that you’ve thought of someplace, I want you to write down a description of the place. Go on, write. What does the place look like? What smells are there? What colors do you see? What sounds? What are you doing? What season is it? And most importantly, why do you love that place?
Now read what you wrote. Is there any mention of the number of grass blades or leaves on the trees? Is there any mention of any superficial detail? My guess is, ‘No’. You remember only the essential elements that are tied to your emotional memories of the place. The reason you love the place is because of fond memories there. There is certainly some element of emotional attachment.
You are the sum total of all of your experiences. Take this experiment and multiply it by every experience (good or bad) that you have ever had in your life. These are the things you (and I) bring to the conversation. How?
If an artist creates a work of art that communicates with you, it has most likely triggered a memory of something you have experienced or has struck a chord with your philosophies or your ideals. In short, you respond because of the cumulative experiences that have made you who you are. You don’t need to know exactly how or why a work of art spoke to you. The artwork may even appear very foreign to your life experiences, but something in the artwork communicated with something within you. A work of art is incomplete without your side of the dialogue. You as the viewer complete the communication process.
Now ‘listen’ to the artwork. The message that you are taking from the artwork is probably not what the artist was saying. Even if it was close, it would be viewed through your eyes, not the artist’s, and therefore would different (even if only slightly) from the artist’s point of view. Therefore, if you engage yourself in the process, you can gain deeper insights by listening to what the artist is trying to say. You may not be able to completely understand the artist’s intentions, but the conversation does not have to end with the first level of communication. Art has the ability to go much deeper. Look for it. There is no right or wrong.
Art is a very complex language, but it is magical. It does have power to speak deeply. If a piece speaks to you, engage yourself in the dialogue. Go deeper. Listen. Respond. It will enrich your life.