The Danger of Academics

16 Feb

Recently I was discussing art with an acquaintance.  An artist in his own right, he has been working in theater in Europe for years.  We started talking about the purpose of art and the first thing that he brought up was the importance of emotion.  Despite the fact that I’ve always considered myself a bit of a rebellious, back-to-basics sort of art student, I found I was taken aback by this.  Emotion?  Could it really be that simple?

Thankfully I visited Florence soon after.  For those who haven’t been, imagine a giant outdoor museum with some of the best food you’ve ever had.  That’s Florence.  It’s an absolutely incredible place.  It would be very easy to turn any trip to the city into a Long March-style art history class, but my acquaintance’s words haunted me throughout my trip.  Yes, the interior of San Lorenzo was a masterwork of Renaissance architecture, but that wasn’t why I spent quite a while standing in awe while my friends waited outside.  I was amazed not by the specifics, but by the sense of serenity that came from the space.  After all, that’s what makes great art great.  Academics may argue about the artistic or historic merits of a particular piece, drop words like “composition”, “tone”, or “perspective”, but those really aren’t the things that will hold your attention.

I kept trying to find the median – explaining works as an art historian while encouraging my friends to simply enjoy what they saw, and I have to tell you it was extremely difficult.  I guess the proper way can, like the Renaissance that inspired Florentine artists, be traced back to Greek philosophy.  Moderation in all things.  I had to work to balance the obsessive need I had to see all the great works of art and architecture with the simple enjoyment of what is a beautiful city.  Not that it stopped me from dragging them to Santa Croce to see the Pazzi Chapel on our last day, but I made sure to leave time to wander through the city one last time before dinner.

I think in some ways why I’ve found it so difficult to really work on this blog.  Once you start to analyze art too much it loses its power.  Sometimes you have to stand in front of a work of art and simply enjoy the experience and feel the emotions.  Even I can forget to be excited about art sometimes.  Visiting the favorites helps.  Standing in front of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus I can tell you I wasn’t thinking about what the painting meant to art history or how the artist had constructed the work.  It’s a beautiful painting, pure and simple.  To think anything beyond that is to diminish the talent of the artist.  I guess, too, that art is in many ways like life itself.  It should never be taken too seriously.  There are times you can learn more from the emotions than any of the academics.

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