We cannot control the art that moves us

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Screenshot of The Dress of the Morning painting. This painting is from the European surrealist movement and can be found at the Brooklyn Museum. Courtesy of Winnipeg Art Gallery

Welcome, all, to the Opinion Section’s newest column. Although it is yet to be named, I hope to discuss some thought-provoking and insightful ideas that both my peers and the world around us have presented throughout my life and all its silly little moments. Hope you enjoy, and I’ll get back to you all on a title as soon as I can get my life together (whenever that may be). Today, I’d like to explore one of these silly little moments, and finally make some intellectual progress on something that’s been tugging at me for months.  

This moment occurred at the Brooklyn Museum, just this past summer. Some friends had come to visit, and after roaming around the city for a bit, we decided to investigate the wonderful exhibits. After some mindless wandering, we found ourselves in a room filled with European surrealist paintings. Out of everything scattered throughout the gallery, there was one piece that profoundly moved me: Yves Tanguy’s “Dress of the Morning.” “I like that one,” I said immediately. “Why?” my friend asked.  

I didn’t know.

Following my friend’s inquiry, I eventually started rambling about the blending of colors, the artist’s playful approach to depth and the singular human-like shadow present among the amorphous figures encircling it. It was then that I realized I was, to put it simply, talking out of my ass. This brings me to the title of this piece: We cannot control the art that moves us. 

My initial fondness of the piece was not sparked by any of these reasons. My declaration of appreciation was not a reaction to any of the aspects listed above – those came after the fact – but rather a reaction to a feeling of liking, disjointed from any pretentious and elitist commentary that I had no ethos in giving. 

This sort of artistic phi phenomenon is what inspired this piece. The evocation of the painting stood greater than the sum of its components – color, depth and contents – and I think there’s something to be learned from this.  

First, we must stop asking people to explain their interests or likings using rhetoric characteristic of a classist and elitist art culture. Art is created for the masses, and museums and exhibits are not limited to a population of individuals who have, or think they have, a “deeper understanding” of the works presented to them. People like this tend to come from more privileged financial and social backgrounds, and the perpetuation of high-art critique culture actively promotes oppressive classist and elitist forces. The intellectualization of appreciation imposes an exclusionary wall against individuals who are not accepted within the art community, and this must change.  

That being said, I also think we ought to remember why we choose to experience art in the first place: to experience. To impose any sort of predetermined predictions on what you’ll enjoy is to rob yourself of a more natural way of consuming art. Sure, you’re more than allowed to explore a niche – just as I was when searching for surrealist paintings that day – but don’t close yourself off to a particular medium without a few trial runs.  

Besides, what’s the value of art if we over complicate our appreciation of it? Granted, I have come to love pieces over time (ones which did not initially strike me in the way that the Tanguy did), but this wasn’t an act of convincing. 

Where we are in life plays a valuable role in our understanding of and projection onto art. We’ve all listened to “breakup songs” after losing that special someone or cried our way through a sad movie when feeling down, just as we’ve all blasted our favorite songs at an obnoxious volume and unruly hour of the night to celebrate even the littlest of successes. It’s okay to value art simply because you do, and that’s okay.  

So, as a reminder to oneself: Enjoy art for what it is, and while it’s useful to take note of what you like, sometimes it’s important to just leave it at that. We are all subjects of the arts; remember to cherish those moments of wonder they have to offer.

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