Friday, June 8, 2012

June 8
Kensuke Yamada
Catch the Rabbit

Stockholm Syndrome

What do you do when you look at a work of art and have no strong response? In a group exhibition or a museum you can just move on. When a piece is the only one in the room and you have committed to spend a while you have to get to know it a little. Some people are comfortable arriving at a decision and spending no more time with a work if they do not like it.

Here is where I am with that: if you invest your time and attention into something it will return something. You may begin to like a work, a kind of visual Stockholm syndrome. Or, maybe some germ of thought will form and that can be its own reward.  And then there is the fact that we change over time. When I was in Paris many years ago I visited the Picasso Museum. I figured that if I were ever to be won over, this was the place. Nope. I was unmoved. A week or two ago I saw a Picasso calendar on the table in my friend’s apartment. I looked at one, then another of the images. I still didn’t like them exactly but I could see them. They were extremely powerful. And this in a bad reproduction!

Savvy design, seasonal colors, the profusion of seductive imagery on every level of advertising enters our brains; we cannot stop it. Advertising, meant to appeal, often to the widest possible audience, is going to be conservative and our general tastes may absorb its influences. This is what Holland Cotter wrote about taste in the New York Times:

“Taste is habit, a form of learned behavior. And habit is what we rely on to make us feel at home and comfortable in the world. So judgment based primarily on taste, like most art criticism, is inherently conservative, predictable, fixed.”

I think of the poster of the girl crying I used to visit in the bookstore of the mall near my house. I was twelve and the original drawing was pastel on black paper. A tear streamed down her face, catching the light. I want to say there was the reflection of a man (on horseback?) in her pupil. Very corny. I loved it. Later, in graduate school, I formed opinions. Really worked on them. So much talking. 

I have entered an age of greater humility. I no longer submit my vote, thumbs up or down. In my own work I am suspicious of paintings or passages that I like. Recently I sat in my studio in front of two large paintings on paper. One had been more or less resolved and the other was in what I always think of as the awkward phase. I became very aware that my eyes wanted to be in the mire of the most awkward passage of the more awkward painting. I have to learn this over and over again.

I have never really had a strong response to ceramics. I did not understand the symmetry of the work. I didn’t really like this piece. But I walked around it and around it, spent time with it, refrained from lobbing my judgments at it. Not to preserve it, but to preserve myself, my humility, my receptivity. This piece now exists detailed and intact in my memory. Someday it may bloom into some thought or idea I am grateful for. “Art prepares the soul for tenderness.” This quote is attributed to Chekov, though I cannot find the original source. Artists like this quote because it justifies in a very large way what we do. We can also keep it in mind when we look at other people’s work. I want to be prepared. 


Update: I have thought about this piece literally every day since I saw it. I am not sure why. Here is a full view: Catch the Rabbit

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