The Art Of the ‘Thing’

There is a great debate amongst commentators on the arts, as to whether you can separate the artists from what they create, whether, for example, a painting can be looked at as just a painting or whether you need to know about he artist in order to appreciate it. Now obviously you can look at a work of art just for the thing itself, and my entries here are rarely about the obvious.

The question is whether you lose something if you do not know about the artist, and of course you do. So is what you lose important to your appreciation of what they create? After all if you had known Van Gogh and walked into his sparse room, smelling of sweat with dirty clothes around and heard him snoring with a painting still drying on the easel, would you ‘appreciate’ the painting more than seeing it on a gallery wall surrounded by guards?

My mother told me you can never ‘understand’ a work of art if you do now know about the life that created it. Because every bit of sweat, and the smell of those dirty clothes is in Van Gough’s work. Just as fascism is in Ezra Pound’s work, just as the fight for liberty is in Lorca’s work, when you read Balzac you experience his Frenchness which is distinct from Zola’s. The passion in Wuthering Heights, is Emily’s passion.

This is why artists of stature feel themselves in their work,  and uncovering that self gives the work the edginess of life itself.

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