The subject of art is an interesting thing. What to one person is an inspired demonstration of the mixing of vision, movement, emotion, perspective, imagination, color palette, and freedom from objectivity is to another person a 6-year-old’s prized finger painting.
Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate artistic talent. I don’t have any, so I appreciate it when somebody else shows up with it. Some will insist that musicians are artists, and sometimes vice versa, and in some sense that may be, but my feeble brain separates visual art from music. To individuals, some music is pleasurable to listen to and some isn’t. No amount of explaining the virtues of an opera experience will have me enjoy it, yet it is interesting and entertaining to many. On the other hand, not many of those folks would enjoy a Hank Williams Jr. concert, I’ll wager. (I said “not many,” not “none.”)
I don’t look at something and see what else it might be. I’m a black-and-white, just-get-a-smaller-glass kind of guy. To me, a “guess what this is” artistic rendition of a real object smacks of a Rorschach test rather than art. And when I do see something visually interesting, the idea that I might duplicate it in the form of a drawing or a painting is absurd. If I could give you an impression of what I see, it would look exactly like what I saw. But I don’t have that talent. My rendering would be a smudge. Kudos to you artsy types.
I can remember having to take art classes in college, both hands-on drawing and mandatory art history classes. In the drawing class, we had to draw on a large piece of art paper an image from a photograph that was projected to the front of the classroom. I was confused and couldn’t understand why it was a requirement for my graduation to sketch in pencil an image that already existed clearly and accurately in a photograph. Midway through the class, my instructor looked at my work and, with not a hint of compassion, snatched it off my easel and said, “I think we can do better, Mr. Larson.”
I responded with, “LAWSON … ell, ay, doubleyoo.”
“My name is Lawson, not Larson.”
“Please see me after class, Mr. Larson.”
“We will be here,” said I.
After class, I was treated to a lecture on the importance of an art education for an aspiring manufacturing engineer. Suitably pumped up and eager to further explore my creative side, I thanked my instructor for opening my eyes to this important piece of my academic puzzle and eagerly made my way to the admissions office, where I withdrew from the course.
As for art history, I found it to be a memorization exercise from an enormous book that cost roughly the equivalent of a three-bedroom waterfront home on Oahu. But it was a very useful book, serving nicely more than once as a base for the car jack in my Camaro. Never once in my 35-year manufacturing and business career did I need to know that Mona Lisa once had eyebrows.
What’s that saying, “I don’t know anything about art, but I know what I like?” Something like that. There are paintings in my home done by local artists. The images are of recognizable local places and things that no longer exist in the forms on the canvas. Time has a way of mucking up my fondest stuff, but these images trigger memories of my younger days prowling these places before Harpswell succumbed to the weight of gentrification, losing parts of itself in the process. The paintings keep these places alive in my memories.
While nearly all of the artsy pieces in the house have clearly recognized subjects, one of them is a perplexity. It’s a painting that has all the attributes of a catastrophic commercial kitchen grease fire. It could have been painted during the fire, but it’s the last thing I would consider saving as I ran to safety. Someone important to The Boss painted it, so it has a place of prominence. In our kitchen, of course. And who among us bacon-loving freestyle cooks doesn’t need to be reminded of the hazards lurking around a hot stove?
So with that I’ll grant that art — even some bad art — can serve a purpose. Discovering that purpose can be a headache and the bad news is that it can’t be unseen, especially if it hangs in your kitchen.
And for those within earshot of my deck on a nice day, it can’t be unheard, either. If you don’t recognize what you’re hearing, that’s because it’s art.
Butch Lawson is an observer of life. He lives on Bailey Island.