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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Feeling Art

Roy Lichtenstein's women get emotional.

Mona Lisa, 1503-06, Leonardo
Feelings and emotions are almost synonymous. Emotions, though, cause feelings. Strangely enough, in appreciating art, feelings are very often subjugated to appearances. We've all no doubt heard the expression, "appearances count for everything." Well, they don't. Art, being visual (or auditory in the case of music, or both, in the case of the cinema) is what makes the first impression. Moreover, all too often people look no further than the visual impact of a work before moving on to the visual impact of yet another work. Perhaps that means there is too much art in the world today.
But it's the visual or auditory impact of work which leads to, in fact produces the emotional impact. Sometimes the emotional impact comes crashing down almost instantly as we see art. At other times, the intellect plays a part, which usually takes more time. Leonardo is intellectual. We tend to analyze Mona, even psychoanalyze her. Only then do we begin to develop feelings for her, or at least for the painting. However, even at that, with the possible exception of her husband, few people have ever fallen in love with Mona del Giaconda. But love is not the only human emotion. Instead we find her fascinating, mysterious, maybe even amusing. All these things and more are feelings.
Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, 1907, Pablo Picasso
Picasso's Avignon prostitutes clobber us with ugly. Think about it. The first time you ever laid eyes on les Demoiselles d'Avignon, almost instantly you hated it. That's good. You were feeling art…albeit perhaps unwillingly. In 1909 and for centuries before, there was an unwritten law that mostly art was to be beautiful. In fact, some might argue, even today, that art must be beautiful. Well, it wasn't always and need not be. Some of the most powerful pieces of art ever created were not beautiful. Look at the work of Gericault, of James Ensor, Robert Blake, or Damien Hirst, and you'll find spectacularly ugly works, hateful, disgusting, searing, devastating art evoking instant dislike. Yet, positive or negative this art evokes feelings. In fact, it's only when we accept or overcome these feelings that we can begin an intellectual or aesthetic analysis of the works. Compared to some of the artists mention above, Picasso's ladies are, if not attractive, at least rather sedate, interesting, and as fascinating in their own way as old Mona.
The Blue Lady, 1937, Henri Matisse
Matisse, as you may have guessed by now, I find ugly (his work, that is, not the man). They give me feelings of frustration that an artist would deliberately turn fairly attractive images of fairly attractive ladies into such fairly unattractive paintings such as his The Blue Lady (above). I don't find them repulsive or hateful, merely unappealing from an artistic perspective. But don't let my feelings for Matisse's work color your feelings. Some people, apparently, love Matisse. His work has been popular, collected, even forged for a hundred years, so it must have some positive emotional appeal. I just don't see it. But that's my emotional "problem," not yours, or even Matisse's.
Woman I, 1950-52, Willem de Kooning
If Matisse's ladies are rather "flat" de Kooning's (above) are anything but. Okay, I wouldn't want to meet any of them in a dark alley, but on canvas, they are so grotesquely fat and unattractive physically that they become, first, amusing; then the paint itself becomes richly fascinating, then wildly enjoyable to contemplate. Are de Kooning's ladies uglier than Picasso's? I guess it would depend upon your taste in ladies, or your definition of "ugly," not to mention your taste in art. But one thing you're not going to avoid is emotional feelings for his ladies.

Sexual Feeling, 2006,
Max Eberle
Max Eberle gives a whole new slant
on painting the female figure (2008)
I've deliberately chosen to explore these artists as they've depicted probably the single most painted subject in art—the female figure. I'm comparing apples to apples (or perhaps peaches, given the feminine content). And, I've pulled these artists from mostly different eras in art (Picasso and Matisse being the exception). Along the same line, from today's Postmodern art scene, there's the feelings evoked by Max Eberle's ladies (above). Virtually all males have feelings for women, and for centuries, virtually all artists have been male. Maybe it's just me, but the male figure in art doesn't seem to have the same broad emotional impact. Not that it's totally absent, it's just different (obviously) and seems to me less powerful and prevalent. Or, maybe it's just the way I'm feeling about art at the moment.

Picasso paints a "tribute" to Leonardo

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