For a long time, longer than I really care to admit, I was a cretin when it came to modern and contemporary art. I had this tongue-in-cheek attitude that summed up my thinking on the subject in general: if I could do it, it wasn’t art.
Gradually, that attitude began to break down. I read more. I looked more carefully. I stopped rejecting exhibits or installations out of hand (although, I have to say that the installation of several television monitors talking to each other at the St. Louis Art Museum may still fit my tongue-in-cheek attitude).
But there was a moment, some years ago, when something happened that changed my attitude about contemporary and modern art. It was a series of three paintings at the St. Louis Art Museum by Gerhard Richter, titled individually November, December and January. (That’s December at the top of the page).
I still can’t explain why, but the day came when I looked at those three paintings closely, and realized they represented something far more, far larger, than various shades of gray paint on canvas. I looked at those three paintings, and I felt physically cold, as if I was in the very real presence of a representation of weather.
Richter was the doorway through which I walked into contemporary and modern art. The St. Louis museum has other Richter works, like Gray Mirror (1991), four mounted panels of gray glass, and Betty, a portrait of the back of Richter’s daughter at about age 12. And then I began to read about his work. And moved on from there. Twenty years ago, if someone had asked me who my favorite artist was, I would have likely Cezanne, pr perhaps Andrew Wyeth. Today, I would answer the question by saying Makoto Fujimura.
And I surprise myself even more by finding significant contemporary and modern elements in a painter like El Greco.
The art itself didn’t change; I changed. I understood what I didn’t understand before. The biggest change came in my understanding of creativity.
In Life After Art, Matt Appling says that “human survival never demanded that a poem be written or a song be sung or a play be performed or a story be told or any number of other beautiful, emotional, moving things be created. Beauty is never essential to survival. Yet humanity has spent millions of hours on unnecessary, nonessential creation.
“God’s life is not just about existing. It is about beauty.”
And I found beauty in what I previously didn’t understand, expressions of the creative self that we carry with us because we are made in God’s image.
Over at The High Calling, we’re reading Appling’s Life After Art. To see the discussion today on “Life without beauty,” pleasevisit the site.
My review of Life After Art.
Broken Hallelujahs, a poem inspired by Gerhard Richter’s December.
Painting: December, oil on canvas by Gerhard Richter (1989).