Thinking and feeling the art


I re-read recently about the painter Ben Nicholson and how, quote: ‘he was not fond of ‘explanations’ (when it came to painting) preferring to let the work speak for itself. How was it possible for him, or for anyone, to analyse what had been created, and could only be appreciated, intuitively?’ was his view.
(Ben Nicholson ‘drawings and painted reliefs’
Peter Khoroche. (ISBN 978-1-84822-004-1)

He felt such analysis and explanation to actually be destructive.

Reflecting on this, much as I can appreciate such an approach has it’s place – I feel we are robbing ourselves of the legitimate means of communication that is on a par with the visual language of the art work.
Referring of course to the language of the spoken/written word.

We can engage in the intellectual gymnastics and acrobatics of multiplying words that leave us ‘none the wiser with all they have to say ‘– that’s one extreme.

And the other extreme is a kind of snobbery that seeks to justify our work as being so unique (the misunderstood genius syndrome) as to not need any words of explanation whatsoever.

I agree the intuitive appreciation comes first. But (especially with Abstract art) – a piece of work needs, in my view, at least a title if the intellect is not to be left completely without compass, redundant, or misguided.

But these considerations are not new are they?

‘Hand in hand’ comes to mind. I suggest the dovetail joint of emotion and intellect, when viewing art.

So that rather than decry the use of words in favour of intuition alone, followed by the contradiction of such a position by the production of reams of critical writing, why not just embrace both as necessary and inseparable.

Greenberg would refer to ‘feeling it’ as a means of proper judgement, and the apportioning of ‘greatness’ to a given piece of work. But as we know he was an art Czar whose currency was words.

But we are also allowed – not to feel ‘it’, that is ok.
You feel it – I don’t. That’s ok.

It can hardly be a great intellectual exercise to like or dislike someone’s curtains. We don’t need a written or oral justification for doing so, we don’t need a manifesto, or an ‘ism’ to tag onto our ‘curtains’ experience.

“I know what I like” still stands up. But conversely it isn’t always enough.

What we experience when invited for tea, as we glance across the room and like our host’s curtains, is intuitive, emotional, a response to the sight of the eyes, but intelligence will come-in somewhere.

‘Why do you like them?’ ‘Well I feel it… I like the material, the colour, the design, the shape and so on’.

No big theory to expound here. But nevertheless – I’ve thought and used words to explain why I find the curtains appealing.

Deciding whether we like or don’t like a piece of art, expressing approval of it, is down to the use of the combination of our total human sensibilities.

Whether it’s responding to the curtains or a Picasso – we are all chalk and cheese when it comes to our individual sensibilities leading to aesthetic choices and conclusions we might come to.

It’s interesting to listen to the opinions of others regarding a piece of art.

And as we hear their verbal explanation of appreciation – hello! we might just warm to the piece in a way we had not anticipated before. So it was the verbal communication from them that brought us into another ‘sensibility’, was it not?

You may lean percentage-wise to the intuitive as opposed to the cerebral, or even towards the cerebral to the exclusion of the aesthetic completely.

Let’s feel and think or should it be think and feel?
(As a footnote and an aside: the meaning of intuition I must say is best understood by the prophets).


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