Term Paper: Art Is to Leave My Mind Uncontaminated

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¶ … art is to leave my mind uncontaminated by theories. Theory can only inhibit spontaneous creation, inserting a barrier between me and my creativity." The idea of art theory and meaning has been debated for centuries. Art critics seem to instill heavy meaning into every artwork, but is that truly the artist's intention for their work? Did they mean for viewers to contemplate their works as they would a work of literature, or did they create their art for enjoyment, rather than theory? Every person has his or her own idea about art and art theory. To fully enjoy a work of art, the viewer should enjoy it and experience it, rather than attempting to fill it with vague or perhaps misplaced meaning, symbolism, and theory.

For eons, humans have created art, and other humans have attempted to make sense of that art by critiquing it and adding meaning, symbolism, and theory to the works. One art critic writes, "Does art bear a message in the way language does? What must we know to clarify an artwork's meaning: external facts about artists' lives, or internal facts about how their works were made? Can't we just look at an artwork for enjoyment?" (Freeland 2003, p. 100). This points out the problem with theory and meaning when it comes to art. Is theory really necessary, or can art be enjoyed simply for what it is - beautiful and inspiring works that please the eyes and the senses?

There are two main theories of art used throughout the art world - the cognitive theory and the expression theory. The expression theory holds that art communicates feelings and emotions to the viewer, and that is the artist's job, to convey these meanings to the viewer (Freeland 2003, p. 104). The cognitive theory holds that art plays a role in our lives, and that it imparts knowledge to the viewer (Freeland 2003, p. 112). These two theories indicate how rigid the theory of art can be, and how it can never be the same for two people, or even two critics. In fact, some critics are now arguing that art theory is "dead," at least in part because it has worn out, and is no longer viable in today's art world (Rosenstein, 2002). Others comment on how theories change over time, and become archaic and outmoded when artists follow them too closely or religiously (Hertel 2003). Thus, theories can bind the artist and the viewer, and for many, art theory needs to die so that true, expressive and creative art can live.

Interpretation and theory also depend at least partly on the viewer. For example, a male viewer might think nothing of a painting of a nude, while a female might view it quite differently. Author Freeland continues, "Sometimes critics advance interpretations that artists themselves reject. Feminist critics, for example, think that nudes done by great artists like Renoir, Picasso, and de Kooning reflect ways men have often seen women as their muses and/or sexual property" (Freeland 2003, p. 101). Thus, the theory behind the work can be very different for different people, and that means that each person may react differently to the same piece of art. Theory is totally subjective, and this is another reason that theory can throw off the artist and the viewer, and why it has no place in the art world.

An excellent example of this lack of theory in his works is Michelangelo, who was legendary for his belief that each piece of marble or other medium contained the work inside it. His job was to "liberate" the artwork within. Another art historian writes, "Art forms, or the concetto, exist independently of the artist, and are implanted in matter by nature. The artist's function was to draw these forms out of the material" (Vess 2008). This idea that the art is waiting inside the medium totally ignores the theory of meaning or interpretation, instead, Michelangelo relied on his manipulation of the stone to uncover the artwork, and there is no other theory involved. Michelangelo is not the only artist who was unconcerned with theory, but he is one of the most famous, and his theory is well-known. Other artists, such as Picasso, illustrate how their methods can change over time, leading to very divergent theories and methods. Picasso went through several "periods," such as his "blue period," where he painted primarily in that color. If he had chosen only one theory to explore, his artwork would not have changed and grown as it did throughout his lifetime and that might have made quite a difference in his success and popularity. Creativity is paramount in the art world, and stifling creativity in any form leads to disappointing art and unsuccessful artists, period.

Another aspect of this stifling of creativity leads directly back to the artist, and directly relates to Michelangelo's theory of art. Most artworks take more than a few hours to create. In fact, many can take weeks, months, or even years. Certainly, the artist does not feel the same thing each time he or she works on the piece, and certainly, the theory cannot remain constant during that time. Author Freeland continues, "When music or art expresses something, perhaps this has more to do with how it is arranged than with what the artist was feeling on a given day. The expressiveness is in the work, not the artist" (Freeland, 2003, p. 105). Thus, even if the artist does prescribe a theory or idea to his or her piece, this theory can change over time, and it is almost impossible for it to remain constant during the creative stage. Adhering to a single theory when creating large art pieces is nearly impossible, and to do so only stifles the creativity and sheer expressiveness of the piece.

Different theories and aspects of art also change over time, so to ascribe to one theory is to become rigid and unable to adapt, which is the antithesis of any good art or artist. In fact, art theories expand and alter, and can come to mean many things, which may leave artists in love with the theory far behind in the actual creation of art. Author Robert Williams notes, "As with Symbolism, Cubism quickly came to mean all sorts of things to different people, and it was developed in all sorts of directions" (Williams 2004, p. 174). An artist must be flexible, even if they subscribe to only one type or theory of art, and as Williams indicates, even art theories change and grow over time, leading to a change in theories, attitudes, and ideas. Without this flexibility, art will stay the same and never change, and theory will never adapt or grow, and that can only lead to monotony and sameness in art and in art theory.

There is another aspect to art theory and the interpretation of art that also leads to dissimilar ideas and theories, and that is the historic context of the art. For example, a viewer seeing Andy Warhol's soup can 1000 years from now might have a totally different perspective on what this art "means," and on the whole idea of pop art in general, while Warhol may have had a very different idea of the meaning of that painting, (and his other artworks). The same is true for a viewer seeing one of Michelangelo's works today for the first time. Today, the viewer might not associate the incredible statue of David to the Bible, but instead admire it for its strength, power, and depiction of the human body. The historical context of artworks change over time, and so, their theory may have been one thing when they were created, and something far different today, which is another reason theory inhibits creation and the understanding of that creation. One person's theory will never be the same to everyone else, and it will change over time, inhibiting the understanding and admiration of a piece of art.

There is another way adherence or over attention to theory can get in the way of creativity. Many young artists are becoming extremely involved in dialogues about their theory and ideas. Another writer notes, "From the activity of making art, young artists are now invited to listen to the debates of their own practice" (Panero 2005). These artists run the risk of becoming so attuned to criticism and theory that they create there art around it, rather than from their own expression and ideas, and that can only smother creativity and the joy of creation.

The artist must be true to him/herself, and if theory is part of that equation, so be it. However, an artist should not have to subscribe to a theory or interpretation about every piece of art they create. This stifles the creative nature of art, and stifles the artist, who may be so concerned with theory that they end up creating substandard art, but art that is heavy in meaning, symbolism, and theory. Artists… [END OF PREVIEW]

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