A Trip to the Art Museum

Have you ever felt intimidation stepping into an art gallery? Have you been to a modern art museum and felt like a cultural moron, stuck wondering, “why is this oil painting even in here, and who decided this is art?” If your answer is ‘yes’ to either question, read on.

I’ve heard people say things like “with art, there are no mistakes. It’s all art” (and this assertion is ridiculous). You see, contrary to the opinion of those who esteem themselves as culturally elite postmoderns, art has rules. Don’t get me wrong…you can haphazardly throw paint on a canvas and it may be great therapy, but it’s not necessarily great art.

Think about it...

Consider, we don’t approach any other creative endeavor with the assumption that “there are no rules – there are no mistakes!” Can I record myself pounding on a piano and expect to go platinum? Can I string together 50 random words from Webster’s dictionary call that poetry? Can I close my eyes, dig through my refrigerator, pull out great gobs of mystery contents, whip up something special on the stove, and call that cooking? It may be special but not likely edible. And that’s because music has rules and poetry has rules and cooking has rules and if you break those rules you have a mess. It should be no surprise then that creating artwork is exactly the same way.

Rules can be our friends...

There are rules and it takes time and painstaking work to master these rules. But with mastery, they can form an incubator for truly great artwork. Let me be honest. I don’t think everything heralded as art is truly art. I think a great deal of confusion happens when we don’t make a distinction between “art” and “visual expression”. Visual expression does not have to conform to any rules at all. It can be shocking. It can be crude. It can be poorly executed. It doesn’t matter. Visual expression needs only to say something and make you think (e.g. graffiti spray painted on a wall to incite rebellion or express angst).  The confusion arises when visual expression winds up in art museums. Don’t let that intimidate or confuse you. It may be a powerful visual expression, and it may be valid. Please listen to it. Try to understand what it means. Maybe it is completely inane and nonsensical (but maybe that’s how its creator views their world, so it can still be insightful). But you don’t have to process someone’s visual expression like you would process true art. Visual expression seeks to communicate, but without reference to the rules of design and beauty. I believe true art recognizes the rules and design within the universe and works within the grain of these patterns to create something beautiful and emotive.

Art has rules and structure. Those rules and that structure provide a framework for for the creation of something truly amazing.