September 09, 2020
This has baffled humans since the first cave drawings were discovered. It was while looking at cave art made with ochre, manganese and charcoal during the ice age that I really started thinking hard about this question. I was touring the Grotte Prehistorique in France, and the guide posed the questions. Do we value the art for the art itself? the age? history? What is most important? Is it made more valuable because of the effort the artist exerted to create it? I mean, none of us today have to crawl on our bellies through stalagmites and stalactites to get to our studios.
You could argue the cave art is valuable because it has scientific value. It is evidence that deer used to have humps for fat storage, similar to camels today. Is its value in the artistic skill employed? The artist used the topography of the cave wall, and the shadows cast by their torch to depict the shadows on the forms. That’s pretty advanced and remarkable. There were no painting workshops or teachers, so how did they know to do this?.
After a few years of thinking about this, I have come to believe that - for me - the value in the art in that cave is the experience I had viewing it. It was one of those moments you might call spiritual. I felt like I was connected to a wealth of history and all of mankind. I could hear the drips of water, which incidentally take 60 years from when they rain down, to filter through the earth and become a water droplet in that cave. I could smell the wet minerals, I felt the chill of that 55 F air that is oblivious to the weather above. I could only see where the artificial lights shined. I felt supported and surrounded by mother earth, but very aware that slipping and falling into any of the sharp stalagmites could be deadly. The environment was simultaneously inviting and intimidating. The experience of viewing those cave artworks would not be the same in a museum.
Seeing the paintings the way the artist saw them was a vital part of the experience for me. But I also appreciate the story. A man had several spears in him being thrown by another man. The artist depicted a violent world where humans fought for limited resources. I would have tried to hang out in a cave and paint too if I could.
Bringing this to the 21st century, I believe it is sometimes important for the painting on the wall to match the couch. Nobody wants for the art to make the couch look ugly. But the real value of a piece of original artwork is in how it makes you feel. I routinely make people cry when they connect with my paintings. I make them smile too. I’m most proud of the art that elicits emotions. It’s what separates decorator art from fine art. The world needs both, but I create fine art.
Of all the people, places and things there are to paint in this world, an artist chooses one to depict. We choose that one because it stirs something inside us. Since we are passionate about the image, we know that you, the viewer, will respond to our rendering. Some artists will paint bigger than life size to engage your senses. The 17th century artists loved using symbolism to tell stories in their paintings. Impressionists manipulated color shapes that dazzle the eyes when you step back. I enjoy painting in miniature and in other ways that invite you to get closer and to interact with the art.
Be aware of the experience fine art presents you with the next time you are viewing a work. Take the time to notice it with all of your senses. Observe the lighting, the frame or mount, the perspective. Let the narratives appear that speak to how you personally connect with the piece. Helen Keller is quoted as having said “The best and most beautiful things in the world must be felt with the heart.” She’s not wrong.
Click Debra Keirce to see all of her available art.
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