The Art of Appreciating Art

What makes a great art-work ‘great’? Of-course it is the mastering of various techniques employed, the finesse and most importantly, the message or the idea it tries to exude.  So whether it is Leonardo Da Vinci’s- Foetus in the Womb which expresses the human condition in a nutshell or Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird- a commentary on racial discrimination as seen in the young eyes of Scout Fincher or even The Godfather, for Mario Puzo’s brilliant story and Marlon Brando’s superb acting. The question therefore is, does it take an expert to understand a great work of art?

Recently, our teacher introduced us to Ludwig Wittgenstein. I for one enjoyed studying his theories on ‘language games’ and completely side with him when he talks of words having meaning only when put in context and that the similarity of words arise due to something he calls ‘family resemblances’.  But at the same time I found myself questioning his perspective on the appreciation of art. Wittgenstein affirms that one must understand and have prior knowledge of the art-form before appreciating it. He also draws parallels between the appreciation of art and philosophical investigations; “Reasons in aesthetics are of the nature of further descriptions: e.g. you can make a person see what Brahms was driving at by showing him lots of different pieces by Brahms, or by comparing him with a contemporary author; and all that aesthetics does is to draw your attention to a thing, to place things side by side” to make another person see what you see… and that the same sort of reasons were given also in philosophy.”

Instinctively, I agreed with Wittgenstein but then it got me thinking, isn’t his theory prejudicial? Moreover is it necessary to show someone what ‘you’ see in a work of art? I believe appreciating art lies in the eye of the beholder. As much as I understand that people can be frivolous when passing judgements with respect to a work of art without essentially understanding it and in the process give rise to ‘pretentious’ art critiques, I still believe that everyone is entitled to an opinion. Moreover, I believe it is the artist’s responsibility to create pieces that are approachable to the masses. The art-world has created a niche for itself which only the learned and the rich are privy to. Art in my opinion is free expression, that which and must be open to all irrespective of whether the audience has had prior exposure to it or not. So, whether it is a dance production or a painting or even music, again in my opinion, it is the responsibility of the artist to give the audience an insight into his/her creation.  If the idea is not put across, the artist should or must be open to the varied interpretations coming his/her way.

Glancing through a site which was meant for dummies to appreciate art got me to think that A) One is not a dummy if he/she cannot understand art. B) Who gets to draw the boundaries on the appreciation of art? C) Everyone and anyone can appreciate something in a work of art. The work of art may aesthetically be or not be beautiful, the idea is, if the work of art has conveyed something to you, then that is what really matters. There is no right or wrong answer and I therefore see no need in comparing works of art to show people what ‘you’ see. Let people see whatever they wish to see or hear or feel. It might not agree with your sense of judgement but that’s okay, don’t go try to prove your point, let’s celebrate subjectivity and let’s move on.

 -Namrata Kumar


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