There will be a PBS "American Masters" program on Andy Warhol tonight, and that reminded me of an angry letter I got from a friend a couple of years ago railing about what a charlatan Andy Warhol was. The letter showed a visceral reaction (Warhol would have loved that) to the work and to the man, and revealed how little my friend knew about the function of art and the artist. I felt there was absolutely no point in broaching the subject with this person until he had a little more information, so I recommended to him that he watch the show tonight.
I was perhaps harder on him than I needed to be when I wrote, "I think you're somehow stuck on the idea that art designed to piss the viewer off is not art. But it is -- or can be, if well executed and clear -- and it is not always obvious to the untrained eye (or the closed mind) that the artist producing the work is first-rate." He responded with, "If the sole purpose of art is to provoke emotion, then the field of art is wide open to anything. But then that has always been the case, therefore we can say that there is no limitation on what could be considered art; it does not have to contain any beauty, any harmony, it just has to produce an emotion, and more emotion produced, the better the art." Just when I thought he was getting it, he went off to describe the possibilities: Norman Rockwell paintings of Christians being fed to the lions or piles of bodies in the concentration camps.
Aside from the revelation that the writer had never seen Picasso's Guernica or probably any other major work of 20th Century art, it is clear that, had he lived at the turn of the 19th Century he would be railing against the "abominations" produced by the French Impressionists, as the critics and most of the public did at the time. It leaves me with little to say except that art is different things to different people, and those who are open to learn about it, through viewing and sometimes study, will reap benefits they never dreamed of. Some of us will enjoy the "American Masters" presentation tonight.
The blog yesterday provoked a response that threw me for a loop. I wrote about looking into eyes as a way to follow a movie story, and the writer maintains that eyes "say" nothing. This astounded me. I have been looking into people's eyes all my life, and, while I don't claim to have been able to see their souls, I cannot imagine that anybody can read a face without looking into eyes. He says, not. Eyeballs are just eyeballs; they don't reveal emotions, they don't reflect thoughts, they are not windows to anything. They are a completely neutral facial feature, and anybody who believes otherwise has just been reading too many cheap novels.
That reminds me of a Dorothy Parker line, "Was it La Rochefecauld who said,'If there were no novels, nobody would be in love'?"
But as to the eyes, I'm sorry. Eyes are like art, you can see a lot there if you know how to look.