For a nursing home service I was conducting recently, I brought with me several works of art showing Jesus as the Good Shepherd. I noticed that the residents took a brief look at each work of art and then were done looking. Now, look again at the artwork at the top of this blog. Here is a description of the artwork:
In 1999, Antony Gormley’s sculpture was completed. Quantum Cloud had been commissioned as a piece that would complement the newly constructed Millennium Dome in London, England. This sculpture is 30 meters tall, contains 5.5km of galvanized steel, and weighs nearly 50 metric tons. What is most impressive about this piece is not the size or the weight but rather the science and engineering it took to complete it. Gormley worked with various and randomly oriented steel sections, implementing geometry and trigonometry, to shape this massive work of art. Overall, Gormley used 325 tetrahedral units to finish the piece, giving birth to many websites and articles describing in detail all the math and science that went into this complex sculpture.
Did you see the faint outline of a person in it? Neither did I. Go ahead and look again, I’ll wait. As one person put it, “in the midst of all of the math and in spite of the complex enormity of this piece, what naturally draws viewers is the faint image of a person in the midst of the chaos of metal.”
Many people have a strong preference for representational art, art that represents as accurately as possible a person or scene. The thing about representational art is that once you have looked at the work of art and seen that it accurately depicts what the artist was trying to portray and marveled at the artist’s skill, you are pretty much done looking at it, like the folks in the nursing home looking at my pictures of the Good Shepherd. And with the advent of photography representational art became even less of a necessity because it was so easy just to take a picture with a camera.
It’s no wonder, then, that about the time that cameras were invented art forms such as impressionism, surrealism, cubism, and many other forms of modern art sprung up. Modern art requires a viewer to interact with works of art in a much more complex and mysterious way. It is not just a “one and done” encounter.
When experiencing a work of art that they can’t figure out most people do one of two things. They either dismiss the work as “stupid” or they are drawn in to wonder, “What is going on here. What is the artist trying to express?”
On a recent trip to a modern art museum with my grandson we walked up to several works of art and he would ask me, “What is it?” After several of these questions I finally told him, “This is modern art. When you look at it ask yourself what it looks like to you.” He is s quick learner so when we approached the next work of art instead of asking me what it was he said, “To me it looks like a…”