What is art? What is love? What is beauty? What is style? These are questions that have bickered at us from the very depths of their universal yearnings. We merry-go-round about the pros and cons of these extremely subjective domains, from our most naive cores to our extensively occupied realms of social awareness and vastly informed smorgasbord of intellectualism. A question we seldom ask ourselves is: where does the buck stop? And does the buck stop where we truly think it does?
What is man but an empty chalice, repeatedly topped up with ever-rehashed versions of new ways to interpret old things or tirelessly reiterated ways to behold new things, seamlessly delivered by increasingly seductive means? Just a question.
Some of us make trips to exhibitions to finally stand before pieces of art, expert knowledge of which we have been, for the most part, neatly dished out in partial plates of browning paper, and if the experts so declare their expertise, who are we non-experts to beg to differ? Well, must I remind you that you were once a child and, once upon a time, you did take many a thing at face value.
You did, once upon a time, believe in Father Christmas and that very unbelievable snow-white beard he wore, despite the fact he sat and sounded like your Dad, Maths teacher – basically anyone who could feign a baritone guffaw. To be frank, I only humoured him for the shiny, wholly hollow boxes but we’d all claim that now, won’t we? The point is: we were innocent once, once upon a time when everything that was simply was. We weren’t cluttered with the exalted whims of intellectualism or burdened by the “what we must learn before we truly appreciate what we must know” malarkey. I mean, ice cream tasted a lot better before I learnt that what I regularly smothered my face with contained a healthy dose of C6H12O6, otherwise known as glucose, a simple sugar, primary source of energy and metabolic intermediate.
There’s something about mystery that we humans seem to find inextricably alluring. We may engage with the mysterious by either further cladding it in unattainable mystery to the point where one either gets it or they don’t, in the case of religion, or similarly, passing down elucidations and accounts, that have been birthed by the elite, in whose control most forms of Western art were held, and the critics enlisted to further mystify the works of art for the sake of exalting its value in what we can only confirm as common currency.
I have been to art exhibitions with friends who were a little hesitant to express how they felt about what was hanging in front of them for fear of ‘getting it wrong’. As much as I champion the stance that when we stand in an art gallery, we are totally in charge of our own perceptions, I do realise that we do inevitably bring along the baggage of already pooled meanings. Moreover, after the first glance, we obligatorily lurch in for a little bit of background knowledge displayed by the accompanying hand-sized captions, for the sake of further putting the beheld object into ‘context’. However, let us not forget we also have eyes with which we primarily saw the world, eyes that we could allow to automatically procure emotions devoid of intellectual interruption – emotions that allowed us perceive things at face value.
I say, as much as we may indulge in discourse and sprinkle meaning on the pie of our existence just so it tastes a little more meaningful, we should also remember to exercise our naked, child-like desires to roam freely on the unbeaten tracks of perception, casting caution and social conscience to the wind.
And, once this has been applied to various aspects of the aforementioned universalities, we may be well on the course to new untainted forms of expression, well beyond means we have ever been familiar with.