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Opinion: Art is much more than a pretty picture

April 21st, 2013 Posted in Arts and Life, Opinion

By Dani Hayes

When I say I’m studying art history, I see the word “pointless” glaze over people’s eyes. Or a smirk crosses their lips. Or eyes wander as they scramble to change the subject. It’s annoying.

I honestly can talk about art for hours. What can I say? it’s one of my passions. Therefore, I think everyone should study art history.


Caravaggio’s ‘Doubting Thomas.”

Art is so much more than a pretty picture. If that’s all it took to be a great artist, to be aesthetically pleasing, we would live in a very blind world. Art has power to shake up the world, to make us uncomfortable. There is power in the hand of the artist with every stroke of the brush, but only if the artist takes a risk.

Simon Schama, an art history professor at Columbia University, wrote a book called The Power of Art.

“Great art has dreadful manners,” he wrote. “The hushed reverence of the gallery can fool you into believing masterpieces are polite things, visions that sooth, charm and beguile, but actually they are thugs. Merciless and wily, the greatest paintings grab you in a headlock, rough up your composure and then proceed in short order to rearrange your sense of reality.”

Art history is an indispensable education because we are able to see tangible evidence of how a single person could change history. If you want to change the world, study art and repeat what you see. Find out what it takes to make great art and apply to your specific goals.

Famous artists are unarguably talented, but each artist still known today had to push the expectations of their times—they had to make people angry.

The Baroque Era is known for its realistic portrayal of biblical stories. Italian artist Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio painted biblical paintings but in a new naturalistic style. He painted the same stories that have been seen since the beginning of Christianity, but in a way that no one had seen before, making many uncomfortable.

Caravaggio’s The Doubting St. Thomas depicts a story that has been told through writing and art countless times. It’s the story of the Jesus Christ coming back to his apostles after his death, proving to them he was resurrected as he had a body of flesh and bone. Caravaggio’s goal, as in many of his works, was to put the viewer in the moment captured in the painting.

St. Thomas doubts that Jesus is indeed the Risen Lord. To extinguish any doubt, Christ drives Thomas’s finger deep into his side wound—a wound those who nailed Christ on the cross made to ensure he was dead. Caravaggio’s use of light, or tenebrism, emphasized this single, graphic act that most painters in the past chose to ignore.

It’s uncomfortable to look at but that was Caravaggio’s goal. He took a chance. The majority, including the Catholic Church, found it horrifying, but he stood by his work.

Courage and a strong will against criticism is what made this great artist a legend.

Another more recent artist who changed the course of painting was Jackson Pollock. You either love him or you hate him; and if you hate him, you don’t understand.

Modern art is tricky because often it has nothing to do with making something beautiful, but has everything to do with expressing an idea. Yes, there are still artists today who paint traditional portraits and landscapes, but no one will remember them. We remember the Pollocks.

One of the most annoying comment about art is, “My 5-year-old could do that,” especially when referring to a Pollock.

First off, no they can’t. Also, you can’t, and I guarantee your artist friend from down the street who you think is so talented can’t either.


Jackson Pollock’s ”Blue Poles (No. 11)”

Pollock’s use of physical movement as he created his gigantic, splattered paintings on the floor, were essential to breaking open the glass box in which most painters were trapped. His iconic paintings, like Blue Poles, have the power to entrap the viewer. You get lost in the color and the intricate lacings of the paint. When you look at Blue Poles at any point in your life, you are able to come away with new insights if you let yourself get lost in the painting.

Pollock’s risk in making something “ugly” gave him the power to create works of art that viewers use as an outlet for emotion and philosophy.

To be influential, you must be eager to be “ugly.” “Safe” is the most dangerous word if you want to make a change.


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