Towards an understanding of art

[…] I again spent two hours in front of a few pictures today; I sense this is somehow useful for me. Would it be instructive for you? I can’t really say it in one breath. One can really see all of Cezanne’s pictures in two or three well-chosen examples; and no doubt we could have come as far in understanding him somewhere else, at Cassirer’s for instance, as I find myself advancing now. But it all takes a long, long time. When I remember the puzzlement and insecurity of one’s first confrontation with his work, along with his name, which was just as new. And then for a long time nothing, and suddenly one has the right eyes…

Rainer Maria Rilke to his wife, Clara Westhoff, 29 rue Cassette, Paris 6eme, 10 October 1907 (emphasis added in the text)

These words put me in mind of some of Robert Hughes’ closing remarks at the end of the Shock of the New. I cannot remember the precise phrase, but it was along the lines that true art involves one person talking to one other person, the interested (and informed) observer, about something significant. He used Matisse by way of example, I think, though Cezanne would clearly fit just as well. And Rilke describes perfectly that moment when, after listening and struggling for so long, one finally grasps what the artist is driving at.

Hughes, incidentally, was comparing such true art with passing faddishness that passes for so much of art nowadays – one of his comments that particularly resonated was that if you take a Rembrandt, for example, out of a gallery and put it in a parking lot, it is still a Rembrandt and, which is more important, art; take a pile of bricks out of the Tate and put them in a parking lot and you have…a pile of bricks. For art to be art, it must have some degree of the universal about it – it is unlikely to be art merely because of its location.

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