Art Appreciation - Who Has A Say?

Guest article by Dan E Goldstein

In the conversation about the relative merits of artwork, who gets to weigh in? Of course the contributions of art critics and historians, our experts, are central in the art appreciation discussion. The experts offer objectivity in a conversation that leans so naturally to the subjective. But what of the non-expert? Does the layman, the simple art fan, offer anything of value in the art appreciation forum?

The art expert offers historical, cultural and political perspective which can enrich the viewing experience. The historian can point out to us, for example, aspects in Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel figures which speak to the artist's challenges to Catholicism and the Church. The critic can illuminate for us subtle differences and variations in genre. He draws our attention, for example, to Manet's more frequent use of lines in comparison with other Impressionists, and how this choice distinguishes his works. In the realm of art theory, pioneering thinkers such as Lev Manovich have exploded and radically redefined traditional notions of artistic media.

But what of the rest of us? What about those of us whose connection with art is purely personal, experiential, a passionate but rather uninformed devotion to finding meaningful connections with works of artists past and present? How do our voices fit into the art appreciation conversation? What do we have to offer? Perhaps it is helpful to remind that artists generally create for themselves and for an audience, but rarely for an art critic. The visceral responses of the audience to the work of art is vital feedback for the artist. This feedback speaks to the artwork's impact and to how the work has been understood. It helps the artist to continue growing creatively.

Offering comments at artist websites is one popular vehicle for audience feedback. Most fans offer a few words of praise. Some venture a comment about the use of color, or the impact of a subject. Some come up with a humorous association or otherwise offer up a bit of narrative. The comments tend to be brief. They are as a rule friendly tips of the hat offered to the artist by the fan. Commenting is a comfortable level of engagement for many art lovers, and the artist welcomes the succinct feedback.

Some fans, however, want to express their responses to artwork in a more expansive manner. Some write blog posts. Some write full-blown articles. Is this overstepping? Is this arrogance? Brief, heartfelt comments are one thing, but shouldn't we leave the extended dialogues about art appreciation to the experts?

There are no laws governing who can write about art. The challenge of the layman in writing about art, or any discipline not his own, is finding some firm ground and authority for his discussion. For example, a composer might blog about her music for art. She can describe the elements of the visual work which had impact and how she attempted to express those elements, or her responses to those elements, in her music. Her discussion is interesting and authoritative because she is creating a connection between her own discipline, her authority field of music, and the foreign discipline, that of art. We can analogize from the example of musical composition to any creative, professional or technical discipline. Thoughtful writers who find connections meaningful to them between their fields of expertise and artwork have a unique offering in the art appreciation forum.

In conclusion, the voices of the audience provide critical feedback to artists about the impact of their creations. While much of this visceral audience feedback occurs at the comfortable level of engagement provided by website commenting, there is a great potential for deeper engagement through blog posts and articles. If we find meaningful ways to connect our experience of art to our own personal areas of expertise, then we offer something unique to the art appreciation discussion.

Dan E Goldstein blogs about music and art appreciation at Audio Sparks for Art.