Don’t Avert Your Eyes

Don’t Avert Your Eyes

There are some fine artworks that can be described in no other terms then that they are “difficult”. They may deal with harsh themes of fear, pain, loneliness or themes of violence such as war or suicide. When we encounter these kinds of art works in shows or galleries, it is our natural instinct to avert our eyes or just avoid that part of the show because we know it will upset us.

But we need to know how to look at difficult fine art as much as we can look at art that pleases us. The artistic soul does not confine itself to just themes of happiness and peace. There is something about the artistic temperament that can produce some of the most beautiful art works from the torture in the soul over personal tragedy or social wrongs.

Never has this been more evident than the explosion of art that came out of the great wars of the last century. It seems that after each great conflict, artists came forward with stirring and moving art works that reflect the horror in the human heart and soul that is a result of these terrible events in human history.

Sol this is one good reason to patronize and appreciate what the artist is trying to say to us. By expressing those strong emotions in the form of art, the artist is performing an act of emotional purging personally. But because the place of artist in society is sometimes to bring healing, that catharsis of the soul the artist goes through can perform a similar catharsis for you and I when we are strong enough to expose ourselves to that art work.

It is also important to remember that the artist is not necessarily trying to upset you and not to allow others to interpret the artist for you. Not long ago the photographic artist Robert Mapplethorp created a huge controversy with a show that included some very graphic sexual images. Along with those images were some lovely photographs of flowers, fruit and children. But because the artist has offended the sensibilities of some, many interpreted his other art works, particularly those of the children as obscene.

Look at each artwork in its own context. It is possible that Mapplethorp was just making a commentary on the beauty and innocence of young children. But because the children were nude and because Mapplethorp was gay and had produced other very provocative sexually charged pieces, the viewers projected perverted sexuality onto those pictures of children. The lesson to us is that we cannot let other circumstances to influence how we react to art. Each artwork stands on its own. We, as educated consumers, must judge each work in its own setting to see what the artist may have been saying with that particular work.

There may be astounding beauty even in scenes of tremendous suffering and human tragedy. So when you look at a difficult piece, in addition to letting the theme and the pathos of the piece talk to you, be sure you judge the artwork artistically as well. Study the colors, the relationship of the objects to each other, the use of realism, surrealism and abstract art concepts to add depth to what you are looking at. Always let the artwork be an artwork. Then you will enjoy multiple meanings and layers of cognizance to what the artist has presented.


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