04 November 2005

Viewing Art: Objectivity

Happy sixth anniversary to me, and to my husband.

Looking at art is actually a rather complicated thing. The more you know about art and its history, or about the artist, or about art criticism, or the confluence of art and society, the more complicated it becomes. Well, in view of the heaps and mounds of stuff to consider, some began advocating that what art viewers needed most was an "innocent eye". Art, they believed, ought to be judged independent of all of the art world's history, baggage, and implications.

But let’s think about that for a moment. Is that wish even possible? Can anyone with the gift of two eyes and a brain connected to them refrain from making judgments based on what they have already seen? Furthermore, can anyone who has read anything about art just completely NOT think about those things when something in the visual world recalls them?

Consider the following painting in that context.

This is The Innocent Eye Test by Mark Tansey, 1981. It is a very clever piece and volumes could be and have been written about it. What you are looking at is a cow, brought into the gallery to test Paulus Potter's image called Young Bull, a classic, naturalistic painting from 1647. Tansey has also painted in some art-types standing there like so many suits. In the background, you may be able to identify one of Monet's haystacks.

Tansey's painting depicts the moment when the museum-folk have let the drapery fall. They (and we viewers) await the judgment of the cow. If the cow is convinced that she is seeing a hot young bull, then we will have our answer. Finally, we will know if Paulus Potter was any good. After all, the cow's judgment couldn't possibly be anything but innocent.

Do we want that? Certainly, the art's baggage is a cumbersome and difficult thing. But without it, we are as ignorant as the cow and not nearly so innocent.


cris said...

Happy anniversary, you guys. :)

Josh said...

"innocent eye." hmm. i like it. i'll use that phrase from now on rather than the less diplomatic "uneducated" or "ignorant."

Kate said...

Ooo another great dinner conversation! Now I just need friends who would entertain these discussions.

It seems that the "innocent eye" is a two edged sword. On one side it is fair to say that art should be taken a face value, without the baggage brought onto it by an educated critic, but yet, on the other, an educated critic gives value to a piece of "art" when the "innocent eye" sees only the raw materials - not art.

ice said...

i like your blog!

Jason Heilpern said...

Congrats on your anniversary!