It is said, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Do you believe that? Have you ever looked at a picture and then try to describe what you see within the frame?
I took a college class where we were expected to know over one hundred pieces of art, the creator and location of the pieces. It included sculptures and ornate buildings across the world. I found myself studying intently, considering I didn’t have any background on the matter, and still I didn’t do as well as I’d have liked on the test.
I’ve found while this kind of knowledge is useful, I find the best way to remember something about a picture or painting is to have a passion about what I’m seeing. In the same college class we had to pick a museum piece and write on it. I chose a painting from a sequence of paintings by Thomas Cole: “The Voyage of Life: Old Age.” The painting depicted the journey of life filled with surprises, pain, and issues that leave us “rough around the edges.” There are jagged rocks and rough waters to upset our “boat” leaving us beleaguered and battered. Yet, despite all we endure, there is hope of eternal life for those who believe.
In addition to a “life journey” it also personifies our young, ambitious country at that time in history. The United States according to John L. Sullivan on “Manifest Destiny, 1839” wrote: “…we are the nation of progress, of individual freedom, of universal enfranchisement.” His view shared by many was, the new Americans were “God’s Chosen People,” destined to establish a New Israel. This became a central theme as politicians moved Native Americans off their land and colonists moved further and further west, to the promise of wide open spaces and the divine right to a transcontinental nation.
This tells me artwork, like beauty or any other perceived idea, is in the eyes of the beholder. While I understand this painting one way, and the artist is said to have had strong feelings about Manifest Destiny, ultimately it’s what we bring from our lives to the painting, that determines our own feelings and perceptions. If we come to the artwork with anger and cynicism, then our perception is likely to be different than had we come with optimism and hope.
Art is around us in so many forms. We need, however to be open to see it. Not everyone even agrees with what art is. Modern art is often scorned by the traditionalist, while the "modern artist" can’t understand why we aren’t moving into the next century! A child’s artwork , (like that of my granddaughter) is valued as a treasure by a parent or grandparent, but mocked by someone who has no connection to it as being just “some silly child’s drawing,” while a professional artist's work, can be worth thousands of dollars. It has more to do with someone's perception.
How do you perceive art? Is your taste broad and visionary or narrow and traditional? Do you love some art and hate others? Are there artists you love, and others you loathe? Is art nothing more than a feeling, for the person seeing it? Why is a picture said to be “worth a thousand words?” I would love to hear your comments! Please share!
https://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/osulliva.htm Images for Thomas Cole: “The Voyage of Life: Old Age