Appreciating art: intellect v aesthetic


My dear friend LL and I went for a late-night wander at Matisse – The Cut Outs at Tate Modern over the weekend.  LL has a family in the art trade and an A-Level in art history, so (unlike me) actually knew who Matisse was.  This got us started on a rather interesting discussion on how much you need to know about art in order to appreciate it.

I’ve been mulling over this question again after yesterday’s Designer Maker student symposium, in light of the challenge from the tutors on my use of the term ‘universal truth’.

As an example of one of the many humans on the planet, I don’t have any knowledge of art history.  I didn’t spend my childhood wandering around art exhibitions, as I found the natural history museum much more exciting.  I dropped art at school at age 13, having learnt only that an artist was someone who could draw fruit and naked people really well.

Does this mean I can’t appreciate art?

I have wondered if art is like fine wine, where you may need to develop your palette in order to pick up on subtle flavours and complex tannins, but a good wine is still good and a bad wine still tastes bad.  So, coming back to my question of ‘universal truth’, is there such a thing as aesthetics which appeal to everyone, no matter who you are or what your experiences are?  Much art will always be subjective of course, coloured by what emotions or feelings can be invoked that are shared between the maker and the viewer / user.  However the “uneducated” art appreciator can still see pictures they like, or don’t like.  (I saw this at the Matisse show where the apparently very famous ‘The Snail’ just looked like a bunch of coloured squares to me.  LL was too nice to accuse me of being a philistine).

For my proposal, I have already been hovering on the edges of the art v craft debate, and now I feel like I am moving rapidly towards intellect v aesthetic as well.  Is there a set of design features or qualities which invoke raw, primal emotions that all humans share – no matter what your culture, education or experience is?  Like the golden ratio, fibonacci and the like – there are some things which just ‘feel right’ to humans.  Are there attributes can I embody in my work that would allow people to feel something (whatever that emotion may be) without needing to understand fully the deep, complex history of how and why I made the object?

TIme to hit the library….



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