I was musing on art, and particularly abstract art, yesterday morning. There was a men’s breakfast at St Clement’s and we were invited to send in an image of a favourite piece of artwork to display while we ate and then to discuss afterwards. I submitted Number 14 by Mark Rothko; it is hard to pick a favourite but I have found Rothko’s large fields of colour more engaging and emotional years than I might have done when I was younger.
As I tried to explain what had drawn me to the image, the phrase ‘painted mirror’ came to mind. Art doesn’t have to be representational and you don’t have to be aware of the artist’s intentions to draw from it. With much modern art, and certainly for me with Rothko’s oeuvre, what you see and feel is a reflection of what you bring: emotions, experience and a willingness to engage with the work. It forms, if you like, a painted mirror – a description that I am suprised not to find coming up in my searches for reflections on modern and abstract art because it seems to fit so perfectly.
Where does that leave the accusation that ‘a child could have done that’? This morning I got round to making a start on a library book I borrowed earlier in the week, originally with the intent of preparing for the breakfast: Why Your Five Year Old Could Not Have Done That: Modern Art Explained by Susie Hodge. I have to confess that it hasn’t done a brilliant job of winning the argument so far! If the reason something becomes art is the artist’s intentions, I don’t buy it. Why bother painting or otherwise constructing a piece when you could just write a short paragraph explaining your idea and let the work take shape in the reader’s mind (I’m sure someone has tried that concept)?
The artist expresses their idea through their work. Divorced from the process, I don’t believe you can always tell from the quality of the work. Given that I’ve rarely had a chance to see any of Rothko’s pieces in real life, I think I could quite easily be deceived by a knock-off and find it a similarly effective painted mirror for the soul.