Every time I stand in front of the elegant black forms in a Robert Motherwell painting from his “Elegy to the Spanish Republic” series, I feel it. And I feel it when I look at the pulsing spirituality of a Mark Rothko canvas, or the flat color planes of poetry from Richard Diebenkorn’s “Ocean Park Series,” or the perfect round beauty of a nude by Aristide Maillol or the intriguing psychologically charged work of Francis Bacon and Egon Schiele.
What I feel is a visceral response, a connection forged between the artists and myself based on my reaction to their work. It has little to do with right and wrong and more to do with yes or no. I bet we all have that moment when we look at a work of art before those critical “outside voices” start to crowd in.
It seems so simple; we all have feelings about the art we see. Yet comfort with our own reactions to it often seems elusive. It’s replaced with the idea of what we should like and insecurity about looking foolish.
I’m not rejecting the importance of art education. We’re hardwired for curiosity, exploration and classification. It’s natural and relevant to see art within historical and contemporary contexts. It’s interesting to understand different techniques and fascinating to talk with artists about their own work. But it doesn’t have much to do with whether I’m moved by the artwork or if it stays with me once I’ve left it.
Experiencing art trumps the explanation of it. If we allow ourselves to have unscripted responses to the work before us, we actually become part of the creative process ourselves and that’s when the good stuff starts happening. That exchange, based on our own reactions, becomes its own reward. And that’s when we feel it.
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