Whether it is a visual art, performing art, or what have you, art can often express a concept so grand that it overtakes the observer with a sense of awe or aesthetic arrest. In Picasso’s Guernica, a gigantic mural with a 3.5 x 7.8 meter dimension is a good example in which an artist utilizes an artistic attribute of abstraction and scale to overwhelm the observer and convey a sense of overwhelming carnage. Picasso’s historical abstract representation of the German bombing of the town of Guernica is expressed via his stylistic methods of abstraction of men, women, children, and animals across his canvas. These various dynamic elements provide a sense of gestalt, or unity in their scale and common “feeling” of carnage as they guide the viewer’s gaze from one point to the next via hard angles and contrasts that seem to create arrows pointing the eye from one place to the next. Or perhaps a non-visual work may suffice as an example such as Pachelbel’s Kanon in D. This particular piece may easily overwhelm the listener both physically and emotionally through decibel volume or emotional scale by perhaps relating the listener to some personal experience in which that particular piece may relate such as a concert attended as a child or a teacher that taught how to play it. It is that sense of sublime or overwhelming feeling of aesthetic arrest in which the observer is consumed and locked into the artistic experience radiated by an artistic composition.
By looking at the first importance of the sublime, what more is there that can be seen in most if not all art? What role does the viewer play and what responsibilities does the viewer have in terms of interpreting and experience art? Perhaps the answer to that may be found in some of the purposes of art. For the most part, it can be seen in European art history that art has predominantly been a medium of expression theological ideas. The focus of choice has often been around the Bible, Jesus Christ, and other religious figures in the story that formed Christianity. The Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo cleverly illustrates passages of Christian lore in a way that provides a sense of architectonic gestalt via the use of geometric figures in an otherwise organic, free form animation of characters between fresco frames. This interplay of elements is made in order to overwhelm the worshipper with a sense of the sublime in hopes of bridging their earthly position and the holy ray of light. However, over the years, art began to separate itself from its religious associations as governments and culture changed. Art soon became an expression of changing times and the responsibility of the viewer changed from having an experience of religious connectivity to an experience of analytical interpretation of artistic form in a work rather than analytical of content. However, it is important to note that formal analysis is not the only purpose of art today. Modern art, that is art within the past century, has moved along and has become a means of expressing personal and social ideas with use of new and varying artistic techniques reflecting both technology and culture.
Today, art has taken on quite a different meaning than it had in its primitive years. Perhaps the most radical change in art came with Greek and Roman art, where the focus of art in some ways was on the skill of man – or rather the ability of man to manipulate color and pattern in order to produce the greatest illusion of reality. Art is a function of man’s creativity and ability to produce that which is not in nature but rather what exists in the mind. It is in essence, the formless given form and it is unique only to man. The combination of colors, the manipulation of lines for perspective, all in an effort to produce a trompe l’oeil effect are methods in which artists create visual art. And for other forms of art such as classical composition, the tools are a manipulation of the sound in order to create something that the human ear can perceive and something that cannot be achieved in nature.
At one time, art’s focus was of recreating that which man perceived as being a gift from the heavens. The focus of art in the Middle Ages was often devoted to religion. However, as technology improved and new artistic forms were experimented with, artists began realizing the potential of creation, of synthesizing. Over time, art became a skill of recreating that, which is derived from human reason and logic. Artists began to realize that man could easily be the measure of all things that are and all things that are not. Art may perhaps be considered that which man perceives himself to be – a creative being able to manipulate any number of elements in a composition in order to create the illusion of that which is not really there. As for the viewer, it is never simply about a “subjective taste test.” The responsibility of the viewer is to understand the complex nature of art, the methods in which artists go about creating, and the messages that are embedded into a composition. By understanding the language, the cultural cycles that affect art styles, as well as other trends, the viewer becomes an active participant in the creation of a pleasurable experience of aesthetic arrest or feeling of the sublime in the representation of man, a creative being.
So what are your feelings about art as an objective aesthetic experience? Or do you still side with art being strictly a personal subjective experience?