Extracting Depths of Meaning from Art as Matters of Opinion

Having recently had the pleasure of touring the Andy Warhol exhibit (with free admission, I might add) in the city where I currently live, I was inundated with the responses from critics, newspaper and other media deriding Warhol’s work not to be art.


In viewing the exhibit, I came to the conclusion that I’d previously alluded to in my posts: that is, that there is such a thing as art in the everyday.  Warhol was a man who wanted to celebrate the art that existed in celebrity, in the everyday, mundane, household objects that we would never otherwise notice; yet he himself hid away, wanting the celebrity for himself, if only to have other masks to hide behind.


This then addresses the question: what is art? For that matter, what drives a person to represent something as art? I believe in Warhol’s motivation, and in his work, as he wanted to show the world why he believed disaster, tragedy and everyday objects had a beauty all of their own. Indeed, as I walked along, admiring his many pieces, I even remarked to an acquaintance that I would’ve loved to get a chance to interview the man.  Unfortunately, Warhol passed some nine days after my birth, a fact that as an art enthusiast, I find a great disappointment.


The simple truth of the matter is this: that there is no true definition of art. In fact, there is no tangible rule or boundary you are unable to cross as an art enthusiast that says if you are a lover of the Impressionists that you may not equally be as enamoured with the works of the brilliant Georgia O’Keefe, or of Canadian pioneer Emily Carr.


Myself, while I admire the work of O’Keefe, Carr and Warhol, my true favourites are known by the names of Salvador Dali, Wassily Kandinsky, Pablo Picasso and others who fit into the realm of abstract expressionism, surrealism and cubism.


In the past, I’ve been asked, why these artists in particular? Why not Rodin, Munch or Van Gogh? Certainly, there have been works from Van Gogh in the past that have resonated with me, but I love abstract expressionism and surrealism because you are able to derive your own meanings, your own emotions from them much more so than other artists.


I say this because to draw inspiration from a painting such as The Secret Life or A Persistence of Memory may be an insurmountable feat to many. There is no defined meaning within the painting itself, no label that allows you to place it into a category immediately upon viewing the work.  They are not scenes of boats sailing in the harbour, or a lioness tending to her cubs. Deeper meanings can and should be drawn from such paintings, even if they may be completely foreign to the artist’s intentions.


What I’ve always loved about art is its subjectivity; there isn’t a person alive who can rightfully claim that you are wrong, that your vision is flawed or that what you choose to place on canvas, on display isn’t beautiful. What it is is a matter of opinion. Much like its fellows in the arts, writing, film, music, stage and others; much of its success or failure depends on the opinion of the vast majority.


I believe that that is why I’d always loathed art classes, though I’ve been an art enthusiast and loved surrealism and abstract expressionism for years, it was never a talent that I’d picked up for myself. The ones who deride your work, your inspiration as nothing but garbage, are those who can’t understand your vision.


Many critics of the great abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock frequently claimed that his work was not art at all; indeed, coining the phrase “a five year-old could do it”.  Fact of the matter was, however, that a five year old didn’t do what Pollock did, nor did a five year old do what Dali, Magritte and even Hurst is doing today.


There is never a right or wrong answer, simply what resonates to you, what speaks to you, and in my case, sometimes hits you so hard you can barely breathe.  I was incredibly blessed to be able to see the Monet to Dali twice in my hometown, and the works from Dali, Magritte and Picasso knocked the wind out of me. Through such work, each artist in turns bares their soul to an audience, in this case, many audiences and though those of us here today won’t get the opportunity to know the artists for who they were, we know them today for who they are and what they mean to us.


For me, it’s not about understanding the artist’s vision as much as it is forming my own vision, my own interpretation and inspiration. I believe that all forms of art; music, film, writing, stage and fine art itself, all somehow derive ideas from one another and from life in general. Much of my emotions, thoughts and beliefs on such works of art have made their way into my poetry as well as other forms of writing.


Art has worked to inspire, move me to tears and embrace me with the visual understanding of my emotions. Though there are a great many artists I will never have the privilege of meeting, the legacy left behind in their work reminds me that at a point in time, there once was an individual who saw the world through my eyes. Though it may be a futile effort to attempt to explain, I believe there is a kinship that connects all of us artists, albeit writer, songwriters, musicians, artists or film makers, that would not survive without one another.


As I’ve often said to those who know me, ‘creativity breeds insanity’ and it is only those of us with creative souls who can understand the complexity and the ongoing struggle in some ways, to have the world understand your vision and embrace you.


Fame and glory may never arrive until an artist is long dead, but the vision and the meaning behind that vision will be a legend. All you have to do is be open to looking for it.


The Art in Everyday: Creative Expression in Movement

A thought occurred to me recently in regards to artistic expression. I was re-watching clips of UFC 83: Serra vs. St. Pierre II, which for those of you who don’t know, was Matt Serra’s first defense of his welterweight championship; and Georges St. Pierre’s first attempt to get it back since losing it to Matt during UFC 69.

Georges won, becoming the undisputed UFC welterweight champion of the world, but I realized something different as I was watching these clips of what has become the fight of the century for me, as a die-hard GSP, as we call him, fan. As I watched both men trade blows and GSP work his arsenal of takedown and submission methods, it seemed like artistic expression to me, like poetry in motion.

This way of thinking was a new one for me, because even with my family background and my own interest in martial arts, I had never once thought of it as being a form of expression. It had always been regarded by me as a form of exercise as well as self defense, but not as a way of revealing your thoughts and feelings.

As I watched GSP move from standing up with Matt to taking him down and attempting an armbar, he was displaying his thought process and strategy to the world. Inadvertently, he was also revealing the respect he had for Matt in his stand up game as well as being a fighter in general.

In older martial arts movies that I grew up on, such as Jet Li’s Wong Fei Hong series, the fluidity in their movements weaves a story about their thoughts and their self expressions in the moves that they choose to make during that particular time in response their opponent.

Aside from martial arts, however, there is art in the way someone slides a bow across a group of strings, as I watched a violinist busking in the street just today. The control that he had in how much of his self expression he wanted to reveal, the execution in the notes he chose to play, were all a part of the poetry that exists in movement.

There are movements that we would never consider to be poetic, and yet to me, seem to tell a story. I saw two teens once, young men, who usually would be loud and boisterous on public transit, curiously silent. Instead, the pair of friends were signing to each other and laughing silently at what the other was saying. The intricate way in which their hands moved was almost like a dance. Watching them, it proved the belief that the majority of communication does not come from your verbalized words.

They were different in the way they expressed themselves, with their hands flying from symbol to symbol, but they showed me why there’s art in the everyday, why even common movements can be looked at as poetry.

Seeing a performer leap and reach out across a stage is not simply dance to me, but the expression of an emotion, a story and an experience strong enough to knock you off your feet and hit you like a ton of bricks.

To be able to view a powerful, soul-invoking performance of someone dancing on stage is like feeling alive for the first time; allowing yourself to truly feel and be enveloped in the emotion of the dance as though it was your life.  

Movement is not simply for money or for everyday common occurrences. There is poetry and emotion in watching a mother fly kites with her daughter, two friends stop and chat over coffee.  Every movement creates a picture and that picture in turn, invokes emotion.

Even in the midst of blood, sweat, tears, injury and the threat of defeat, there is poetry and emotion that is ingrained in the lives of all mixed martial arts fighters. Even though there is the promise of violence of varying degrees, to see the intricate webs of strategy and thought spun out in the Octagon, and thrill of victory is poetic motion.

The art in the everyday lies all around us, it’s simply a matter of noticing those around you. And perhaps, allow your mind to open to poetry and art of all forms and possibilities.