Twentieth Century art baffles a lot of people.
They know it is supposed to be good, but they just don’t get it.
An exhibition of Robert Motherwell’s work is coming to town. The publicity about this exhibit extol its virtues to the public, trying to entice a largely resistant public into viewing his work.
In preparing her piece on this exhibition, the reporter was looking for a quote, something to make a largely confusing and un-untellable show explainable. Why should be see this show. Why should ordinary people in this economy care about the works of Robert Motherwell?
So, she asked me.
At first I panicked. Why ask me? Do I look like I know? This is a serious question. How would I know? Am I going to be exposed as a fake? I am simply a working artist, a blue-collar artist. Not some high-flaluten super educated art historian. Then I looked at her note, and noted the name. Motherwell, Motherwell, sounds familiar, Oh yes, I know this guy! I checked a couple of books to make sure I had the right person, the old brain-box is not what it used to be. But yes, I know this guy. So, happily I gave her what information I had, and my honest opinion on this man’s work, and impact on the art world of his time. Everyone is happy, and article came out, and she did a really good job of it. Being a struggling artist, I am happy for any recognition and getting my name in the paper without getting arrested is something to be proud of.
I sent a link to the article off to several friends and family members. Well, my sister wrote back to me that she enjoyed reading the article, but hoped this person’s art was better than the one image printed in the paper. I had to blink. I got out my paper, and looked at the image they included. Yes, that is one of his pieces, and while not my favorite I rather like it. It is very simple.
To my sister, it bears a striking resemblance to an ink blot test. As for it being good art, she just doesn't know why that is considered as good as say a Rembrant.
Now, I like Robert Motherwell’s work but I do understand what my sister is getting at. His work is condensed, and mature, but also not something the average run of the mill person gets. When I think of all the work and effort that the curators of both galleries, both the receiving gallery, The Clay Center for the arts and sciences in Charleston, WV, and the Jerald Melberg Gallery in Charlotte, NC I have to be concerned on how successful they will be on introducing modern, contemporary art to the general public. Oh, us art lovers will enjoy it, but how many of the other people visiting the Clay center will really get into it?
I know they want the general public to connect with this stuff. They struggle to bring the best to their museums and galleries. But I wonder if showing the best is really the way to go about it. I wonder if they showed the more ordinary pieces, what they dismiss, as not up to par or beginning pieces people might get a chance to understand what the "major" pieces are all about. Often people look at the end results of a lifetime of artwork and just scratch their heads. It is like reading people the ending of a great novel, when they have never read the book, and expecting them to get excited about it. There is no context, and frankly, modern art needs its context!
When showing contemporary art or expressionist art, you really do need to fill in the context. The why of the work is as important as the work itself. If you only show the work but not the story behind it, you leave so much of the work unexposed.
So showing the whole story, the art in context to its time, and to the art that preceded it, lead up to it, helps it make more sense.
We who live art have already made this journey, and sometimes we forget that others have not.
The accompanying photo is of a small painting by me, "Alien Sky" and not Motherwell.