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Posts Tagged ‘standards’

16novcodeyellow

In my peripatetic reading, some years ago, I came across this suggestion about how to look at art:  Instead of thinking you’re going to judge the painting, stand there and imagine that the painting is judging you.

That may sound ridiculous.  Try it anyway.

You can start with this painting. How is this painting judging you?

When the tables are turned this way, you’ll notice that you’ve been judging art by rather arbitrary, inherited standards; that you like it that way; that these standards make you feel smart; and that this realization is embarrassing.

Currently, I’m reading From Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to the Present  by Jacques Barzun.  In this section (p. 167) he’s mainly talking about writing in the 17th century, but what he says applies to the visual arts, too.

The first modern critics did not spend all their time discussing tragedy.  Other forms of poetry enjoyed their minute attention, most often in the light of Horace’s precepts.  Applying such pre-existing standards was the very definition of criticism until the 19th century.  The process was analytical and judicial.  A sort of stencil was laid over the work and the places noted where the right features showed through the holes.  The more points scored, the better the work.

Now, ANALYSIS, the breaking of wholes into parts, is fundamental to science, but for judging works of art, the procedure is more uncertain: what are the natural parts of a story, a sonnet, a painting:  The maker’s aim is to project his vision by creating not a machine made up of parts but the impression of seamless unity that belongs to a living thing. 

Painting by Karen Gerrard, acrylic on canvas, 30” x 40”

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