What Am I Missing?

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I’ll admit it, I don’t get most works of art.

Part of the reason goes way back to grade school and my dislike for when it was time for art. I was a numbers guy and viewed art class as just taking time away from doing something more important, and more enjoyable, like long division. So my goal in every art class was simple, get it over with as quickly as possible. And as I recall, it was a rare art lesson when I was not the first one finished.

Now as you can imagine, there was not much art going on at my desk. I realized I had no skill, and just chalked it up by thinking that’s just not how my mind works. Fast forward 40 plus years, and nothing has changed. I’m still a numbers guy (I teach Accounting), and I’m still terrible at art.

Whenever we would get together with our friends to play Pictionary, nobody wanted to be on my team, but at least my drawings were good for a few laughs. The same thing is true with another great game, Telestrations – no one wants to be the person after me, forced to try and figure out what my child-like drawing represents.

I think part of the reason for my lackluster attitude towards art is a lack of appreciation for “art”. I have made a couple of attempts to become more sophisticated and knowledgeable. A few years ago my wife and I joined the Philadelphia Museum of Art. On our first visit, as we walked through variety of displays, I became increasingly agitated. We had even rented headphones so the various pieces of art could be explained, but to me this just made the experience worse. The narrator was seeing things in the works of art that I couldn’t see in my wildest imagination.

What I would find particularly upsetting was coming across works of art like this (not necessarily this particular work of art, but it gets the point across):

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How is that considered art? A 10 year-old could draw that, or even worse, I could draw that. But there it was, hanging on the walls of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, with the fancy name of “Diagonal with Curve III”. I guess it took the artist a couple of tries to get it right.

Or how about the drawing at the top of this post? That drawing was made by the same artist who made “Diagonal with Curve III”, Ellsworth Kelly. The name of that drawing is “Awnings, Avenue Matignon”, and the name as usual, seems to have nothing to do with the drawing. (I’m not even sure if that little smudge of blue in the bottom right corner is supposed to be there, or if it it really is just a smudge.) When I look at Awnings, it looks like something I created in Excel a couple of weeks ago.

And it’s not just Ellsworth; here’s a work of “art” by Barnett Newman:

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This is known as “Vir Heroicus Sublimis”, which translates roughly to “Man, Heroic and Sublime”. Once again, the title helps to explain the drawing perfectly. I think I’ve seen my kids draw something like that when they were 10 years old.

So what am I missing? I understand people love going to Museums, so why can’t I find such a trip enjoyable? I’m not completely void of emotions that might stop me from appreciating art; I cry quite often when something moves me (see my earlier post, I’m in Tears Again“).

I could go on and on with examples like the three shown here. Needless to say, I did not visit the Museum again, despite having paid for a year’s membership. I think my wife was embarrassed of my constant refrain “How is that considered art?”

But I do keep trying to understand art and to have an appreciation for artists. I’ve watched Neil Gaiman’s graduation speech several times where he encourages the graduates to “Make Good Art”. I read Seth Godin‘s books, where he encourages the reader to find the artist within.

And that’s also why I am so committed to this 31 day challenge. I am viewing this blog as my art, and it’s perhaps helping me to understand the mind of the artist a little bit better. Ellsworth and Newman weren’t doing those drawings to please me, but to please themselves, to express their emotions.

And that’s how I feel about this blog. While it would be nice if others liked it; that’s not why I am doing it.

It’s a chance to express myself, to dare I say, make good art.

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Jim Borden

Accounting Prof. at Villanova; happily married for 30+ years; father of 3 outstanding young men; vegan; interests: fitness, creativity, education, blogging, social media.

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