Dial the Lobster

Bringing art into everyday conversation

Tag: art

You Decide!

Hello Lobster-friends!

In the spirit of democracy and of this blog (it is called “Dial The Lobster” after all) I’d like for YOU to decide which painting or artwork I will discuss next. Have a favorite artwork you’d like to share? Wanna hear my spin on it? Just leave a note in the comments below 🙂

Yours,

The Lobster.

Autumn Paintings

Happy Autumn (or Fall) Lobsterites!

In celebration of the season, I have chosen two autumnal paintings to talk about. After dissing Constable in my last post, and feeling mightily ashamed of myself for doing so, I thought it only fair to include his much-beloved “Epitaph to Joshua Reynolds” (1833-36).

Cenotaph to the Memory of Sir Joshua Reynolds by John Constable

I love this painting, but it makes me feel kind of nostalgic about England and Fall. Living in L.A. I don’t see too much of it. Anyway, ostensibly this painting is about the death of the revered painter Joshua Reynolds. The stag seems to represent him – his nobility, his virility (in art, anyway) his wisdom and his immortality. But personally, sorry Joshua, I just love the mood this painting creates. The tall, half-dead trees, the chill in the air, the forest fading away into a chasm of darkness. It makes death seem remarkably peaceful; the autumn of our lives like something we should be proud to reach…monumental, yet inviting, like jumping into a swimming pool in the dark.

My second pick couldn’t be more different. This is Cy Twombly’s “Autunno” (1993-5) This was painted as part of a series of four that celebrates each season, and for comparison purposes I’ve also posted “Inverno” (winter) and “Estate” (summer).

I’m not sure about this. Compared to “Inverno” and “Estate” it has a raw energy. “Inverno” feels fittingly threatening to me…all that black drifting in like a thundercloud. “Estate” feels dreamy, with its tears of yellow like smudged clown make-up. But I’m not sure I can relate “Autonno” to my own feelings about this season. It feels too…busy, and daring, lacking the serenity I personally associate with it. So, I guess I am a Constable fan after all! Which do you prefer?

Autonno

               Autonno

Advice For Young Art Historians and Art Lovers!

Hey Lobsterites!

Before I became a teacher, I studied long and hard to attain my PhD in Art History. Whether or not it was worth it is a question I could debate all day, but one thing that the process taught me was how to approach art analysis, and ‘reading art’ (art literacy?) in general. And although research and archival work was not my strength AT ALL, analysis and my ability to write about art, was. One of my happiest moments as a human being on this planet (sad, I know!) was when one of my supervisors, at the end of my viva, said ‘I wish I could write about art the way you do.’ This meant a lot more to me than the celebrations afterwards, I can tell you.

Parting from academia is something I have slowly come to terms with over the course of my life. I have often questioned why I gave up, and there were practical reasons, and psychological reasons, but I think that perhaps there were also – for want of a better word- ‘spiritual’ reasons too.

You see, one of the reasons I was successful as an art analyst was because I knew, and still know, one of the secrets to creative and insightful analysis of a painting. And I think the reason I have/had this ability was because of some very special teachers I had, who taught me to open my heart as well as my eyes to art.

When many of us encounter  a painting in an art gallery the tendency, I think, is to externalize it. To see it as something ‘other’ and distant; to read the wall plaque, to search for context.

The key to good analysis, though, is to enter the mind of the painting. Does this make me sound like a loon? The best way I can describe it is that you become part of the painting, and drop all the outside context. Rather, you view it as an extension of yourself.

As the American scientist Evelyn Fox Keller beautifully puts it, “…the highest form of love…is intimacy that does not annihilate difference.”

In other words, you lean into the painting; put your whole self into it, whilst at the same recognizing and respecting the distance between you and it.

I wish that I could explain in more concrete terms, but I’m sure you’ve all experienced moments like this in class, or in an art gallery, when you’re regarding a work of art more subjectively than objectively. A connection sparks in your head between something in the painting and a childhood memory, or a line from a poem, or something you saw in another painting a couple of weeks ago. Do you follow that trail where it leads? Or do you snap your mind shut and go back to taking notes?

The same could be true of any learning experience; not just learning about art. But art invites it, and to not listen to our instincts or to the stirring of our hearts is to cut ourselves off from all that makes art so beautiful. I’m not sure that the art history world invites this kind of personal connectivity to art, at least insofar as it informs analysis and academic publishing. Hence, one of the reasons I quit. But perhaps I shouldn’t have. Perhaps I should have pushed back. Perhaps it’s up to the next generation of art historians to celebrate this form of inquiry, and reestablish art history as a discipline that is interdisciplinary, inter-related, ‘inter’ everything.

lobster telephone

There’s Nothing Wrong with Sentimentality in Art

Lobster-friends, a lot of art critics deride ‘sentimental’ art. Philosopher/critic Anthony Savile states that sentimental art is deceptive, promoting a “false picture of the world,” and an escape from reality.

No exhibit more poignantly captures the dichotomy between escapism and reality than “Pompeii, The Exhibition,” currently showing at the California Science Center in L.A. The gallery takes us on a tour of artifacts culled from Pompeii’s gorgeous villas and gardens – many of them heady with the scent of escapism and, yes, sentimentality. We know where all this is tending, of course. With horrible irony, the ‘post-volcano-eruption’ section of the gallery displays casts of Vesuvius’ victims, curled up, hands over mouths to shield them from the ash – they look horribly like sculptures; the kind that Pompeii’s many wealthy citizens commissioned for their gardens.

And yet…perusing this exhibit, none of the art from Pompeii feels like an escape from reality, though much of it is undeniably sentimental. Take a look at this adorable marble sculpture from a garden villa: as pristine as if it had been carved yesterday.

four little dogs

Evidently, this little quartet of dogs belonged to the villa’s owner, and desiring to capture them forever (goal achieved) the owner had them turned into art, only to be dug up years later during Pompeii’s excavation.

Maybe it’s me, but I see no ‘escape from reality’ here. There is nothing fantastic or escapist about emotion and love to my mind. Maybe when a work of art is overwrought with emotion to the point where it is melodramatic or unbelievable: yes, that’s another story. But to decry sentimental art in general seems like a gross misunderstanding of what sentimentality is. Far from being divorced from reality, sentiment allows us to connect in a visceral way with that which is, to us, most real. And for most of us that means our family, our children, our friends, cute kitty YouTube videos, our pets – essentially, our relationships. Not wars and bombs and poverty and death. Obviously, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t care about those things (of course we should) or that we should shy away from them. But to argue a point on the basis of what is and isn’t ‘real’ seems simultaneously sweeping and reductive.

“Four Little Dogs,” is not simply a charming, sentimental piece. It’s a powerful statement about what endures, and what has endured: the simple beauty of life, and of love.

Salvador Dali Says…Hit The Snooze Button!

Hey Lobster-folk!

You know that feeling in the morning when you’re still exhausted and just can’t BEAR to get of bed? The alarm is pinging in your ears, thoughts of work are swirling in your imagination (oh no! The presentation is today!) and then suddenly you remember with a feeling of ecstatic, er, ecstasy….I HAVE A SNOOZE BUTTON!!!

Well, I don’t know when the snooze button was invented- although whoever invented it is surely one of the unsung heroes of the 20th century- but with his usual uncanny prescience I believe Salvador Dali’s “The Persistence of Memory” might contain a hidden message for snooze-button-aficianados everywhere. Here’s the painting, which you will recognize from museum gift shop teatowels worldwide:

As the MOMA website helpfully reminds us, this painting is indubitably about time. Note the melty clocks. But how come no one has suggested that this painting isn’t REALLY about time, it’s about sleep: how lovely it is, and how we really, really don’t want to wake up and go to work?

Firstly, look how happy Dali is! Yes, that weird squidgy figure with one eye is supposedly Dali himself. And I love how perfectly Dali captures that blissful feeling of sleep, whilst at the same time showing in a concrete way the weird detachment we have from our bodies when we doze. You know how sometimes our legs twitch or kick up? We’re not feeling part of ourselves. And here, Dali’s tongue dribbles out of his nose as he snoozes away.

Draped over his form is a blanket, but it’s not a blanket – it’s a clock. Ugh, that ever present reminder that we will have to get up soon. Similarly, a tree is holding out- like a butler I can’t help but think- another clock, draped like a towel (shower-time?) And then two more clocks: one draped over the edge of the table (perhaps representing an alarm clock) and the other, face down, appears to be a wind-up pocket watch of some sort – the portable watch we take to work (now called an I-phone). It’s swarming with ants, as if it’s a crumb of food. There’s a weird irony to ants being attracted to something so clean and shiny, but that just goes to show how much Dali hates clocks in the morning. To him, they’re crumb-like annoyances he’d like to brush off. And why is it face down? Maybe because Dali can’t bear to think about….work, or life!

It makes sense that these clocks are melting…in a half-asleep state time is humming round the edges of our consciousness, and their softness here crystallizes this idea in visual form.

But if we are in any doubt as to the ‘hidden’ meaning of this painting, look at the time on the clocks: five minutes to seven! Yes, folks, just like you and me, Dali only has five minutes to sleep until that alarm goes off! If snooze buttons had been invented back when Dali was around (HAD THEY?) he’d definitely be using it methinks.

Am I reading into this too much? Am I bonkers? I literally can’t read this painting in any other way, and yet I’ve never read a similar analysis. Let me know what you think!

Yours,

The Lobster.

A Book and A Painting…Sargent and Henry James.

It’s time to crack open those pumpkins! Just kidding…in L.A. at least, it’s rocking the high 90s, and it was 104 today! But for some reason the stores are full of candy corn and foam spiders. Still, at least I am honoring fall in my own special way. I’m rereading the gothic novel “The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James (published 1898…I think!).

James was a realist, but here he takes realism and, well, ‘turns the screw’ on it a bit, heightening realism’s pitch until it teeters dangerously into what some might call psychosis.

It tells the story of a governess who is semi-seduced (this bit, like the rest of the novel, is ambiguous) into taking “full custody and care” of her handsome employees’ charges: a very creepy pair of kids, Miles and Flora. You know that bit in The Shining, with the twins in the corridor? Anyway, this “angelic” couple start to see and hear things (ghosts, of course) but pretend they don’t. The governess is desperate to ‘save their souls’ from the corrupt evil influences that pervade the house, and sets out on a mission to confront this evil. The ending, like the rest of the novel, forces us to question the reliability of the governess’ narrative, as well as the nature of this evil, which is never named by James, but subtly suggested to be of a sexual nature.

James basically took the Victorian notion that children are ‘pure and innocent’ little darlings, and turned this on its head. At the same time he foreshadowed Freud’s writings on “Family Romances,” “Repression,” and “The Uncanny,” by alluding to…well, pretty much all of these things.

He was also friends with John Singer Sargent, whose painting “Daughters of Edward Darley Bolton,” reminds me eerily of the tone and mood of “…Turn of the Screw.”

Sargent Daughters of Edward Darley Bolt

Ostensibly a painting depicting the four children of a rich family, there is something a bit ‘off’ here, isn’t there? The strange doppelganger effect of the two children in the shadows, echoing the doubling of the tall vases both left and right. The shadows themselves. The way the children stare at us, as if guilty. Or…is it we who are guilty? As a viewer, this painting feels designed to make us uncomfortable, just as we feel uncomfortable in our encounters with Miles and Flora in James’ book.

Some people have perhaps read a bit too much into the ambiguity of the painting, suggesting a direct correlation between childhood and corruption/evil, as in “Turn of the Screw.” Rather, I think this painting just makes the point that we don’t always feel comfortable around children, for a variety of reasons. Ever seen a child have a conversation with an invisible friend? Ever seen one kid pummel another kid? Children are ‘tapped into’ a never-ending stream of fantastic and, yes, violent thoughts. Of course, Lewis Carroll knew this only too well, using this knowledge to great effect in “Alice in Wonderland” – who can forget the Queen of Hearts’ cry of, “off with her head”? I think Sargent realizes it too, along with his friend Henry. It’s not that children are corruptible per se, or less innocent than they seem…it’s that they revel in imaginative, scary, uncensored worlds in a shamelessly abandoned way that we cannot ourselves indulge in. Unless, of course, we go mad. And THAT’S why it’s scary.

Now the twins in “The Shining,” are another matter entirely.

A Poem and A Painting: The Art of Losing

Hey Lobsterites!

I thought it might be fun and interesting to start a little series where I pair amazing poems with equally amazing artworks that (to my mind) illustrate, clarify, or expand upon a theme from the poem. Today’s pairing is about loss, and how and why we might lose someone. First, the poem. It is the incredible “One Art,” by Elizabeth Bishop. This is probably my favorite poem of all time, which is why I chose it for this first ‘pairing’ experiment…

 

One Art

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;

so many things seem filled with the intent

to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster

of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.

The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

 

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:

places, and names, and where it was you meant

to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or

next-to-last, of three loved houses went.

The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

 

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,

some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.

I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture

I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident

the art of losing’s not too hard to master

though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

 

What I love about this poem is the pay-off at the end. The moment when we realize that losing her loved one IS a momentous disaster, despite the author’s attempts to kid herself that it’s not-  that it’s akin to losing ‘things.’ We learn simultaneously how much she loves him: more than her memories of people and places; more than her ‘cities’ and ‘realms,’ which makes the loss seem even more staggering. And then the incredibly self-deprecating refrain, “the art of losing isn’t hard to master,” which reminds us with a kind of savagery that we should never take what we have for granted, and that the ‘losing’ of it is our own fault. The whole poem is a downward spiral as well, from the mundane and trivial annoyance of losing keys, to the grief of losing a loved one. It’s a masterclass in poetry.

Now to the artwork. Despite my alliterative blog post title, this isn’t a painting, but a sculpture! I chose Bernini’s exquisite “Apollo and Daphne” (1622-25) which I find almost impossible to view without a tear welling up. Some backstory: Apollo was in love with the beautiful nymph, Daphne, but she was a proto-feminist, and wouldn’t succumb to his (or any man’s) advances, preferring to spend her time rambling in the woods. When Apollo (with some help from Eros) finally catches her, Daphne pleaded with her father, Peneus  to save her, which he does: by turning her into a tree.

This story had been told in art many times before, but never with the sense of horror  that Bernini manages to convey. This is, to all intents and purposes, a rape about to happen. A double-horror stems from Daphne’s shock as her hands begin to morph into leaves.

Despite its underlying violence, Bernini doesn’t want us to think of Apollo as a monster. When you look at Apollo’s face close-up it is full of sadness, shock, and a sense of loss. And there is sadness too in the fact that where his hand finally touches the object of his desires, she has already turned into tree-bark. Daphne is a metaphor not just for Apollo having to face the consequences of loving ‘too much,’ but for the ‘art of losing’ in general. We lose, both Bishop and Bernini say, through an excess of wanting and striving, and an inability to accept the inevitability of loss. Bernini says it loudly and plainly; Bishop coyly and ironically, but the message is the same: we must let go of what we cannot have or risk losing not just a person dear to us, but ourselves as well.

apollo and daphne

Curated Lives: How Do We Get Our Sanity Back?!

Hey Lobsterites!

Sorry it’s been a while. I’ve been writing a LOT; other blogs, a short story here and there, and having a hard time focusing my attention on one thing (as per usual).

Today I wanted to talk about a topic that’s been on my mind a lot recently as I have ventured further down the rabbit hole that is the internet/social media. It’s kind of related to art, because the topic is…curation.

At the ripe old age of 34 I hadn’t realized, until I started blogging and checking out other blogs, just how curated our lives have become. Obviously, the internet requires content curation to some degree, to help us sort through the massive amounts of information. But it’s also happening on a more micro-scale. For instance, for us ladies there are incredibly addictive, brain-cell busting ‘lifestyle’ blogs, complete with curated instagrammed images of ‘a perfect day at the farmers market,’ outfit or ‘the perfect holiday’ make-up look. Lots of use of the word ‘perfect.’ Facebook is also a kind of micro-life-curation experiment…because we choose/select what to say about ourselves, and in the process we are shaping not just how we want people to see us, but how we want to see ourselves. We are, so to speak, ‘curating our own lives.’ One day, I’ll be able to look back at all my posts and pictures and ‘likes’ and see a sort of curated scrapbook of my life. I like this idea, but I know that that scrapbook will only tell half the story…

The desire for curation totally makes sense to me, because it lends us a (false) sense of control, feeds our fantasies about who we are, and makes us look awesome to other people in the process. It allows us to affix boundaries around our identities in an age when the internet and social media load us up with so much information and opportunity and options that we NEED these boundaries in order to stay sane, and make meaning for ourselves. We need to be able to distill all the crap in order to tell ourselves stories that still have a half-sensible plotline. For instance, I have this cool app. that ‘curates’ my newsfeeds depending on my preferences, allowing me to choose the genre of story I want to read. Amazon now curates my homepage with product selections that reflect previous purchases, creating a plot that has a definite arc: I used to be really into buying Agatha Christie books, but now I’m buying writing guides. My character is evolving, and Amazon responds beautifully to each new twist and turn.

This has all started to feed my own desire to become active in the curation process. I have to tell you, my thinking has changed since getting more internet-savvy, and not entirely for the better. I used to be quite happy browsing around, taking-in information, flicking through pages of products. But since reading others’ blogs, checking out Instagram/Twitter, and (perhaps the worst culprit) subscribing to a couple of online ‘box’ services (one, Blue Apron, sends posh ingredients so you can learn to cook awesome recipes, the other is a beauty box sent monthly, with customized products to try out) I have been far more self-aware and even anxious about my consumption of goods and services, as if holding up each potential purchase to the light of my ever-burgeoning ego. The track in my head plays a bit like this: “hmmmm, does this fit who I am? Will this look good with this, this, or that? How does this speak to my INDIVIDUALITY AS A HUMAN BEING?” God, it’s soooooo emo.

Of course, this is all absolutely awful. And yet, we crave personalized service. We love the idea of things being ‘curated’ to our tastes, or more excitingly, curated for us by someone else with taste that we admire, setting up a worrying loop of ‘how can I be more like him/her? Oh, buy this thing! And then blog about it! And then someone else will want to be like me!’

Art curation, at least way back when, was a job designed to soothe the experience of the ‘consumer’ (the art-gallery viewer or buyer) because it allowed the visitor to entrust themselves to the enjoyment of an experience chosen for us by someone far more knowledgeable. And we were more willing to pay for the privilege. I don’t think many people went home at night thinking, ‘how can I replicate this experience for someone else, or put my own personal stamp on it?’ Now, it seems, we are all experts. And isn’t that the goal of capitalism, really? To make us feel capable, in control, excited to share…not the opiate of the masses so much as the caffeine.

Now, I’m not a communist, before you ask! As you can tell from this blog post, I love shopping as much as the next gal. I love browsing blogs and Pinterest and all the rest of it. And I’m definitely not giving up my Blue Apron subscription any time soon. But I’ve realized I need to find some antidotes to this way of being, which is only fueling my ego (in the wrong way) and making me feel antsy.

If anyone has any bright ideas, I’m all ears. I know being in nature helps. I know art helps. I know mindfulness helps. And, obviously, computer/tech ‘fasts.’ I’m sure that donating time/money etc. helps too, because so much of what we do on the computer is about consumption.

And here I am, contributing to the sound and fury! Argh, the irony.

Yours,
The Lobster.

Are You A Romantic? Take This Quiz to Find Out!

Are you a Romantic? Here’s a quick quiz! Tot up how many of these you answer ‘true’ for.

1. Do you gnash your teeth at night worrying about things you really shouldn’t worry about, like the implications of the fact that in 2 billion years we’re going to collide with another galaxy? WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!!

2. Do you ever have cravings for opium or other narcotics?

3. Have you ever considered starting or joining a revolution?

4. Do you have misplaced/misguided ideas about what constitutes a utopia?

5. Has your mental or physical health deteriorated as a result of futile creative endeavors?

6. Do you have friends with names like Montmartre or Dorian?

7. Do you have a love interest who doesn’t love you back but sort of leads you on and likes to hold arty-type soirees?

8. Have you coughed up blood recently? (If so, heads-up: you’re doomed).

9. Are you so over-emotional that your friends won’t let you watch “The Notebook?”

10. Is Don Quixote your literary hero?

11. Do you love being out in nature, sketching flowers, and writing odes to the sea?

If you answered ‘true’ to at least eight of the above statements, you’re probably a Romantic. Congrats!

Some people really hate Romanticism for all its emotionality and melodrama, and it’s generally seen as the ‘opposite’ of realism, which depicts the nitty-gritty world as it actually is and nobly tries to take the focus off of the interiority of self and instead shine a  spotlight on, you know, actual real suffering.

Isn’t that a tad demeaning though? As Hamlet says, who amongst us can cope with the ‘thousand shocks that flesh is heir to?’ Romantics may be kind of angsty but isn’t that just an honest admittance of what we’re all secretly going through? Just think about the 101 bombardments upon your well-being and self-esteem TODAY. I’m not just talking about that negative self-talk we all perpetuate in our minds, but actual things that happen, from a put-down at work, to realizing you’re wearing odd socks; from losing a game of tennis, to burning the gravy; from giving up on that book you were reading, to feeling envious of someone on Facebook. It’s enough to make anyone’s head explode. And yet, we soldier on. That’s the real Romantic message, I think: that in the face of abject misery every day and the ultimate bummer that we’re all going to die sooner or later, there’s beauty and wonder in the world around us. According to the Romantics, it is our ‘duty’ to honor, celebrate, and get in touch with that beauty- which is actually a pretty selfless notion when you think about it.  As Keats so perfectly put it, ‘beauty is truth and truth beauty.’

This is all a long preamble to sharing one of my favorite paintings by Gustave Courbet: a self-portrait entitled “The Desperate Man” (1845).

desperate man

Courbet started out his career as a Romantic and later became a Realist, which I think is kind of a shame. In this startling work we are forced to confront the ‘thousand shocks’ Hamlet talks about, head-on. It’s a self-portrait, yes, but we’re also looking into the abyss of our own desperation, writ large and inescapable. Ironically, it’s a kind of realism, albeit of the psychological kind: the reality that we’re all a total mess, even though we conceal this fact from others or sublimate it in order to soothe our own egos. Perhaps Gustave’s shift to realism was a sublimation of his own despair.

But let’s end on a happy note, shall we? After all, not all the Romantics died of consumption or suicide. Shelley drowned in a boating accident!

Yours,

The Lobster.

Where Can Meaning Be Found? In the Decision to Find Meaning.

I realized that my last blog post about enjoying art didn’t address the ‘particular challenges’ (no irony here folks!) of getting/enjoying contemporary art…what an oversight! However, I’m going to do my best to address my lackadaisicality in this area and put on my best black beret to do so, because I’m coming over all…rather…a bit…arrgh…philosophery!

OK, so art becomes meaningful for us when it has meaning FOR us. As in, for you personally. That meaning can stem from many sources: the color, the story, the emotion, whatever. But it’s definitely a lot easier to make meaning when there is a) story involved and b) emotion involved. Remove those from the equation, and we can feel a bit stranded.

But, here’s an oasis! And it’s you! From my (admittedly only 34 years of) experience, it is entirely possible to force the issue and create meaning for yourself when before there was none. It’s a decision. And just to be clear, finding meaning in something doesn’t mean you understand it, get it, or know what the artist is saying. Meaning means you’ve internalized it, identified with it, and aligned some part of yourself with this external thing. You’re invested in it, so to speak. I’m not just talking about art either, but books, jobs, friendships, articles we read, etc. etc. I think it’s a general misconception that meaning is found: that we read that novel that ‘speaks to us,’ and thus find it meaningful. It’s nice when that happens,  but sometimes meaning must be worked for. I’ll give you an example.

I often teach “Of Mice and Men.” Boy, did I have to work hard to make that novel meaningful for me. I’m not sure why it turns me off- I just don’t connect with the plot, the characters, or…well, any aspect of the book, to be honest. However, my students love it (for some reason) and so I realized I must be missing something. I made a conscious decision that this book had meaning for me, and guess what? Just by making that decision, I began to unearth enough good within the book that I could connect with it and make it meaningful for me. I’ve had this happen with relationships too, when I’ve felt a relationship drift and then bring it back into focus by reminding myself that this relationship IS meaningful to me, and presto! So it is. I bet you can think of other examples. We might sometimes call this ‘forcing ourselves to like something’ (i.e. video games because our partner plays them) or ‘acquiring a taste’ because we want to align with that thing (i.e. red wine). The result, though, is usually the same – a widening of our horizons and our capacity to enjoy and appreciate the world around us.

OK, back to art. Plus, I’ve used the word meaning way too many times. Oh well…

I remember vividly the first time I saw Carl Andre’s controversial Bricks. For those of you who haven’t seen it, it’s a pile of bricks. Literally. Here, see for yourself.

Bricks

They’re stacked to form a shallow, perfect rectangle, but other than that the artist has been hands-off. To say I struggled to find meaning in this artwork is an understatement. Initially, I brushed it off disdainfully (and I’m so ashamed to say that I did the same with a Rothko painting nearby) and went on my merry way. Probably back to the Impressionist gallery. However, something nagged at me, and that was the feeling that I hadn’t given this supposed masterwork a decent shot. So I went back to the bricks, and…this will sound weird, but I felt sorry for them. They were in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and would never be ‘built’ into anything useful or used for their true purpose. Well, that was it. I had forced myself to make meaning out of this pile of bricks, and in succeeding I had forged a connection with it that was even more poignant because of my initial rejection. Did I buy a postcard of them? You bet.

To paraphrase Jane Austen, if she were still with us today and my best friend, modern art is Mr. Darcy, not Mr. Bingley. It doesn’t lead us by the hand into understanding it – in fact, it might at first spark our distrust and dislike. It definitely resists the easy meaning-making that older art often encourages. But that’s why it’s so awesome! It empowers you to practice that meaning-making muscle, and find reasons to like a work – or not. Just think again before totally dismissing it.