Sometimes I Just Need to Escape

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I don’t watch movies. I have been burned so many times by the experience, giving it another chance is a risk I am not comfortable taking. I prefer the instant gratification of an art experience without having to sit through ninety-plus minutes of forty-eight frames per second to persuade me.  Movies are not a contemplative experience. You can only experience them in real time being brought back to compressed time. You can ponder the subject matter after the fact; but you no longer have it in front of you. My role as a movie viewer seems stifled by the perpetual projection of images and distances itself from me by an impenetrable screen. I find the experience disposable. No, I have given movies their fair share of opportunities and have moved on to other artistic mediums. I have an expectation as a viewer and prefer to have a role in its purpose. I like to think I awaken a work of art when it takes on personal meaning; that the piece is there for my engagement and my engagement contributes to its existence.

There are two arguments the surround the role of the viewer. One is that the art exists to tell a story to the viewer and their role is to accept it. I suppose this theory works well with movies, books, illustrative and even figurative works of art. It was defiantly the case with religious based art in the gothic style. Duccio de Buoninsegna’s piece, Maestra (1311) is a great example of an altar piece that depicts biblical scenes that layman would view when presenting alms. Layman did not own scripture and this was their opportunity to contemplate biblical accounts from the sermons they heard in church. These religious commissions were the church’s form of education and also the patron’s show of wealth.

Duccio di Buoninsegna
Duccio di Buoninsegna

The second argument is that the work serves as a catalyst for the viewer’s personal experience and then the viewer can complete the work with what they bring to it. Therefore a piece can have as many meanings as there are viewers. I gravitate toward this theory because it is consistent with the feelings I have with my art viewing experiences.

Art has this amazing ability to communicate feelings within the viewer. Take for example the medium of painting. You have this stuff on a pallet and it is turned into a myriad of other experiences. It is very versatile. Painting or art making in general is an investigation of subject. What keeps the viewer engaged enough for them to investigate further into the work? That investigatory factor and not technique is what separates the strong art from the weak. Taking a benign medium and giving it life is the challenge artist’s face.

I am enamored with installation pieces. Being encompassed about in a created space readily facilitates a physical and psychological response. I went through an extremely painful time in my life, so much that the feeling of joy was foreign to me and I wondered if I was ever going to experience it again. I visited an artist friend, Todd Stilson, one afternoon. Todd lived in a fabulous historical house in downtown Provo, Utah. Since I had never before visited Todd at his home he gave me a tour of the completed restoration work as well as his art and personal art collection. At the top of the narrow stairs was a room, it was too small to be deemed useful by today’s standards and it was occupied by a small desk and chair. At first I didn’t notice anything more than how awkwardly tight the space was until he directed me to look up. There was hundreds of intricately hand cut coloured paper blossoms. Some hung down lightly, others tight against the ceiling like landscaped ground covering. My immediate reaction was to lie down and did so. I was entranced and for the first time in months my pain left and I felt light again, even happy. I wanted to stay there as long as I possibly could and let this feeling wash over me, even heal me. That moment of respite gave me hope. That is the transcendental power of art and I was convinced that piece was created for me for that purpose.

(Todd was inspired by Chanel’s 2009 Spring runway show that was back-dropped in white paper cut roses and camellias.)

The role of art is to persuade the viewer to investigate it. If it fails to do so its existence cannot be validated and will be lost as time passes. The viewer can only complete the piece when this investigatory desire evokes in them the cause to extract personal meaning. Art has the power to engage and even change one’s perspective and knowledge. The closer we look at art the more open we are to drawing meaning and feeling from it.

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