Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Is "Dennis The Menace" Right?

My apologies to Hank Ketcham - but this was too good to pass up!

I saw this cartoon a few weeks ago and clipped it out for a better time to comment on it. After a recent visit to the wonderful, actually amazing Palm Springs Art Museum, this cartoon suddenly came into focus. I saw the world through the eyes of another.

I brought my friend from Hong Kong to visit the museum that is free Thursdays from 4 - 8 pm. Afterwords we headed to the equally amazing street fair in itself a kind of revolving art show. At least a mile or two of Palm Canyon Drive is blocked off from 5 pm to 9 pm every Thursday. The street becomes a street vendors paradise. Stores that line the street are also mostly open including many art galleries, tourist traps, food and assorted stores. It is incredibly easy to spend three hours roaming the street and sidewalks! The variety of vendors and their often handmade items is astounding!

I discovered that growing up in Communist China, abstract or modern art was not encouraged. Their posters and banners, wall coverings and such all used a kind of Hitlerish, Stalinist style of art that is best left for war posters. Modern art wasn't available, nor much else, as a child growing up my friend pointed out. He has been to many museums in Europe, learned to appreciate Western art and found himself enjoying the range of items available here. I too was more than impressed. However, with Dennis in mind, I looked at some of the offerings in a new light. I'm sure Stanley Whitney's BLUE MEETS YELLOW, left, was what he had in mind. I could see a little boy asking, really?

I can remember one Christmas holiday I spent with my children as my father-in-law was dying. To keep them busy, I took my yearly vacation to spend time with them freeing their mother to deal with her father. The kids loved museums and boy did we visit them! However, it was the Museum of Modern Art that brought the most comments. In the courtyard was a sculpture of airplane parts that had actually fallen off planes, was gathered and put together again in an abstract sculpture. Whatever it may have intended, it was a sobering item when you figured out what some of those parts were and where they were on the plane. I made them promise to never tell Grandma, a woman who while flying a great deal in her life, hated flying. 

Walking through the museum there was a painting that fascinated my daughter. Titled THE BLUE ROOM she walked up to it, fascinated. After a rather long time, she turned, looked at me and said, "Daddy, there isn't even a spot of blue in this painting!" Stifling laughter, I tried to explain to her that the artist was trying to depict sadness, it was a a room that where the artist was trying to depict what it was like to be sad. She turned, looked at it and shrugging moved on.

I could only imagine what my kids in their youth would have said, like Dennis, what is wrong with this car? Erwin Wurm's FAT CAR, left, would have caused more than a little comment. Children don't usually take kindly to aberrations of what they know and see every day.

Its not only children either. While there were many in the museum that night, it was but a fraction of the numbers walking the street fair. Modern art, in many ways and for years probably since the rise of Expressionism and the birth of modern art has left the sensibilities of many
adults in the cold. With the rise of modern realism again it is at least an attempt to portray our world in a view that the main stream can understand. dali comes to mind. His objects are realistic but often distorted showing in their way a way to view the world. Even with that said however, the sculpture of a male and female tourists in a realistic sculpture that you might at first think were alive, (look closely at the figures on the extreme left of the galley photo) that is at once amazing and disconcerting. So, who knows.

The Chihuly glass sculpture here and of course in his museum in his native Seattle museum are simply fun ... fantastic, whimsical forms that need no description. They don't pretend to be anything. 

While we may chuckle at the comments of Dennis and our children, they do speak a greater truth, one that artists from time immemorial have tried to express, distill and portray their perception of the world.
To truly understand art, the artists and their movements, you need to study them and learn what they are trying to say. Many of the great paintings were love often had resistance to their images. People didn't know what to think.

As I have said in earlier blogs, one can never know what art will live and what will never find a place in art history. Does that mean that it is of no value? I argue that it does not. It fascinates me to see Pennsylvania Dutch items, painted as gifts and as modest decorations of German immigrants items back from the 1700's appraised for high values on the Antiques Roadshow. I think we can safely say, those unknown artists were not decorating everyday items for fame or money.

Art is definitely a personal item. There are those that collect with the hope that their purchases will eventually become quite valuable but often, purchases are made because the artist was able to reach out and captivate the purchaser. An example of a primitive painter would be Roy De Forest's PAINTER IN THE FOREST. It brings to mind the painter Henri Rousseau's primitive paintings done in the height of the Impressionist period in France. While they weren't popular in his time, they are considered amazing works of a primitive art style today. De Forest's piece, left, is amazing in both its detail and complexity. It is notable because he went outside the box!
The Palm Springs museum would have things that would intrigue the Dennis's of the world. One of the things that really captivated me was a light sculpture that had the shadow of birds flying through it. It was arresting and fun to just stand and watch. Rather than being repetitive, the birds, actually their shadows, flew through the lights randomly and can only be captured with a video. 

Of course the plate sculpture would have been understood as to what it was but as to the size and why, well, probably Dennis would have been as perplexed as I was. About the only place such a
creation could be shown would be a museum. So I guess many of the things we see, especially in museums are items created expressly for them.

There are collectors who buy such items and with huge homes needing to be filled, are willing to make such purchases. Many great artists throughout history have been patronized by wealthy patrons and it is to them that we owe our artistic heritage. Who has not seen THE MONA LISA, or Van Gogh's STARRY NIGHT, a Vermeer, even a Rodin sculpture and not been moved. Great art captures a moment in time.

However, the secret to understanding art is to actually learn about it. While I have studied a great deal about art on my own, it was a curator at the Los Angeles Museum of Art that finally made me understand Expressionism. Reaching further than the Impressionists, she made the exhibit at the time, "From Van Gogh to Kandinsky" come alive in a way I had never experienced art before. A good teacher, curator, can do that.

So before we dismiss art, any art, it would be wise to study the artist to try to understand what they are trying to say. The world is a confusing place and artists usually are more sensitive to events and are able in their own way to show us, point out the good and bad in us in ways many of us are not able to do ourselves.

Thank you for reading my blog. Please look at earlier posts that show, in their own way, how design shapes our lives!

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