That Undefinable Something


For reasons I do not understand, I have been haunted by this image for the last few days. I know that it’s from someplace around the Mediterranean, but I don’t know the specific location — so it’s not like there’s some place-related-memories associated with it.  But, I cannot get it out of my mind.  I find it incredibly beautiful and awe inspiring.

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Art affects us all in different ways; as do different artistic media.  I, for one, have never been overly interested in dance, but oil paintings really hit my hot button — and we have numerous of them on our walls.  I love music, but I’m a musical snob — I like things with a clearly definable melody.  Photography, obviously, has a special place in my heart.  And in recent years the cold, hard regularlity of mosaics have spoken to me in new ways.

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Years ago I heard the expression that “there’s no accounting for matters of taste.”  It wasn’t uttered the first time in relation to art but it’s certainly true of art.  When we attend exhibitions, or makers’ fairs I’m sometimes befuddled/amused/confused by what some people consider art — but hey, it’s a big world and if the can find a market for what they are making well then more power to them — doesn’t matter if I don’t like it.

But there is a great truth in Georges Braque’s statement that “in art, there is only one thing that counts; the thing you can’t explain.”  It’s undefinable.  There can be no formulaic explanation.  It appeals, or it doesn’t appeal.  Attempting to explain why is foolishness in the extreme:  it’s ART.

Rational people don’t get it.  Accountants don’t get it — unless by selling the creation they can make a profit.  Art doesn’t need a rational or a practical reason for being; it exists because it is.  From our earliest origins men (and women) have been drawing on cave walls to leave their mark on the world.  Their pictographs tell stories not all that dissimilar from a modern day novel — just without words.

Chinese Pictograph

A Chinese Pictograph

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Pictograph at Picture Rocks (San Juan, Utah)

Our works of art today, regardless the media, tell stories too. Music tells the mood of the generation it was created for.  I still miss the Bubble Gum music I heard growing up; and I’m not all that keen on whatever it is you call most of the popular music today.  Art, too, reflects the Zeitgeist, the spirit of the times.  ChristoFrom the fabric encompassed island of Christo and Jeanne Claude to the cacophony that was a Jackson Pollock painting, jackson_pollock_paintingthey all reflect in various ways the feelings, attitudes, and fears of the society in which they were created. Artists are not insulated from the world; if anything the feel it’s temperature and passions more intensely.

I find that my eye tends to go towards both works of some complexity and vague obscurity. I love mosaics — from a distance they appear to be so precise and mathematical even though the individual pieces might be quite roughly fashioned.  I love also many of those works where your brain has to function to understand the artist’s point of view.

The point, of course, is that it doesn’t matter WHAT trips my trigger, it matters that something DOES.  As far as I’m concerned, the work needn’t be by some well known artist.  I’m just as happy to stop along the way to look at work by roadside artists as to visit a gallery to see some well-known-slapper-of-paint.  What matters to me is that someone took the time to share something of their inner vision with the world.

Bucks Stadium Construction

Milwaukee Bucks Arena Construction

It kind of bothers me that we find millions of dollars to build yet another new sports stadium, but we can’t find money to teach our children art or music.

But equally, it bothers me that with all the machines and modern tools we possess we continue to create buildings that look unfinished, that lack any finesse.  From a distance they look sleek and smooth and contemporary but we can’t find the finishing touches to give them humanity.

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Milwaukee Bucks Arena Rendering

I guess I shouldn’t be a downer about new construction.  I’m tickled that new highway projects often have murals embedded in the concrete work — highlighting some aspect of local life.  It’s crude, but it’s something.

Perhaps my need is for beauty, not necessarily art.  Peg & I get just as excited about a good botanical garden as we do about a visit to a museum.  Then again, creating a clever botanical garden is just as much a work of art as a stunning painting, or a symphony.  See — you don’t have to define and circumscribe what makes art into art.  I just is.

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2 thoughts on “That Undefinable Something

  1. The history of mankind is defined by artistic expression.Scholars can classify, historians designate, critics glorify hand picked artistic value till they’re blue in the face, but it doesn’t change the fact art is a personal matter.I don’t want to be told what is or isn’t great art.

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