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Understanding Modern Art

Updated on June 8, 2008

Art and the modernists

When contemplating what you might learn in the way of understanding the artist's message, it is often helpful to first read about the artist and the work, keeping in mind that abstract art occurs in many forms. The writer is fond of ballet, for example, so you may first want to look up ballet and the prominent names in the art for past 50 years.

Some prefer a "cold" viewing of art without knowing anything about the art or artist, so that there is no suggestion in their mind about what "should" (or not) be found in the work or works and can be enjoyed(or not) without the preconceived contamination of the bias and perception.of others.

Modern interpretations of music occur regularly in operettas, and even in high operas such as Aida, an opera about ancient Egypt. Perhaps one of the most popular modern dance productions is illustrated in Copeland's, Billy the Kid.

Similarly, ballet is breaking all the traditional or classical chains of expectations by pushing the limits in nudity, sexuality, and movement, which includes tumbling and other circus-like moves by superbly trained dancers. Near or simulated acts of sexual freedom no longer shock or raise an eyebrow in a liberated theater atmosphere, suggesting freedom, romantic visions of youth, acceptance of matter -of- fact sexuality, and rejection of the conventional. Audiences are enchanted by modern dance.

Visual art is enjoying a renaissance among previously little known artists, but painters are more certain that buyers are more appreciative of rising prices than on any message of the painter. On the other hand, how many hacks have smelled the money, donning coveralls and foisting off mall art to an unsuspecting but eager public looking for appreciation of the dollar kind?

Modern architecture, furniture and clothing design reflect an abundance of originality that appeals to a wide audience. If we go back 75 years or so, we find a plethora of art represented in objects such as jewelry, lamps, clocks, wearing apparel, and furniture. This daring, for its time, art is still very much admired and collected. It is called art deco.

Many artists are not particularly concerned that an audience understand their work, leaving themselves free to create an original that only they or a few close colleagues understand.

Instead of breaking the work into pieces as one would explicate a poem, the artist seeks admiration not for herself but desiring recognition that the work be appreciated and admired for its beauty and the artist's sensitivity rather than whether the audience understands the work or the artist. By casting off the restraints of traditionalism the modern artist searches the depths of consciousness and beyond to capture an undefined image she wishes to share, not for money or fame, but to share something efemoral, an undefined and original experience.It is assumed that this projection will somehow connect to another's undefined yearning, thereby fulfilling the difficult process of creating something not imagined or devised before this critical moment. The main question then is: did you like it? do you have an appreciation for its originality? Are you moved in some way by it?

Thus when questioned about the meaning in an art work, the artist is likely to reply with one of the examples of questions listed above, and not try to educate the public in what she had on her mind when she created it. By granting this freedom, the artist too continues to feel free and liberated to go on.

It is around such individuals that new "schools" spring up and gain favor by an artist community and an adoring public. there are artists who, in an effort to follow the imperative to be true to their art, reject labels and rather than fame, seek to remain out of the public eye. Paul Klee was such an artist, who created new forms in abstract art, while rejecting the usual consequences of success. Through his sacrafice, he gained immortality.

I hope this meager attempt to explain artistic objectives wil help you in some way. Much of the writer's early learnings about art developed under the tutilage of Professor Cecil Lee, at the University of Oklahoma, liberal studies department. Any err is mine alone.


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      Linda Lamb 7 years ago

      Use spell check. Never publish without proofreading; you lose credibility.