Thursday, 30 June 2016

The Making of an Appreciative Eye

Sandro Botticelli's Birth of Venus has undergone a resurgence of interest; a revival that hasn't been seen since Andy Warhol and Monty Python, except instead of eliciting new artists to imitate, the focus is very much on how to interpret this icon in the modern age.
Are the dated interpretations to be believed? Like Plato's school of thought, or should a new perspective now be given to its symbolism? Do we know much more about the artist and the century in which it was painted?
I only ask these questions; it is not for me to answer. I am no historian of art or student of, despite the intrigue some works stimulate. I see only beauty: the way individual brush-strokes make up the entire image, the way a face or figure has been caught or positioned, the way colour has been used to produce rich, bold hues or pastel shades. Occasionally, this is accompanied by a desire to learn more about a certain piece or about its creator, but usually I'm content to look and less concerned with what it might mean. I do not care to delve deeper if in doing so it could destroy or alter my appreciation.
To study art would certainly deepen my understanding, but it would change the emotional impact. I like to dip in as the mood takes me and not presuppose the objective of the work or the artist, so that when I choose to learn I surface learn: use the resources at my fingertips or glue my pupils to programmes scheduled fortuitously at the same time my interest has been engaged. Lazy learning, but apt for someone who doesn’t wish to critique or become an authority, and who wants to form her own unbiased opinions.
Why do we have to pull art apart? All art, but mostly paintings and literature. That was precisely what put me off doing English Lit. as an A Level or taking it up further on down the line. The idea of reading selected classics, discussing their themes, and analysing passages, as well as the writer's soul, would quite extinguish any enjoyment I might actually get from just reading. And although I've come to appreciate the visual arts rather late, I feel much the same way.
I very seldom want to guess the artist's motives, whatever cubism they are said to belong to: impressionism, surrealism, pop art etc., because I'm of the view there doesn't necessarily have to be any, or at least not one that has to be critically appraised. It could have been the fall of light at a certain time on a certain day or an observation that suddenly took hold; it could have been in the likeness of and staged with models, or commissioned by a patron. And though it's of interest to note the historical or religious references, and compare the results with that of their contemporaries, the overall technique and effect can speak for itself.
Interpretations too will vary depending on the school of thought, as well as individual taste. Art is always evolving so that for example what was once considered blasphemous might be less so today; what was once declared an eyesore might now be seen as beauteous. We are always reclassifying: updating ratings and value, and therefore modernising our own attitudes to the rebirth of trends. Those that mimic do not undermine the worth of the original – the artist or the work – as the versions they produce can, in fact, do the opposite: pin the art and artist firmly on the map and raise its status to icon.
That is what is said, as I alluded to in the opening paragraph, of Botticelli's Birth of Venus: it's considered iconic. I don't disagree, but I do with some of the fantastical interpretations which attempt to give it a feminist spin, to empower women to see the beauty in their own bodies, because I wouldn't have said this was a good example. Venus, posed in full-fronted nudity, isn't strictly uncovered, and nor does she, to me, exude the naked confidence we are told is essential. This adult woman emerging from the sea is a modest Venus, not entirely innocent of her nakedness, nor sure that she wants to be so admired.

Picture Credit: The Birth of Venus, Sandro Botticelli