Art and universal appeal

Michelangelo's "Pieta."

Something I’ve been thinking about lately:

If presented with a Michelangelo or a symphony by Mozart or a passage from In Search of Lost Time, would an educated person and an uneducated person be equally drawn to it? Or, lacking the language by which to communicate about a great work of art, would the uneducated person brush it off as confusing, dull, uninteresting? Is there any kind of universal response to art? Or is it all just about education?

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2 thoughts on “Art and universal appeal

  1. I’ve just challenged my art students about this. The general position seems to be:
    First year students believe it to be universal, second year students believe art appreciation is something one learns through (hard) studies.

    I found the answers quite positive, in that the older students experienced themselves as someone who had learned a lot about art after only one year of studying.

  2. I think perhaps that many ‘uneducated’ persons – and that’s a very vague term – is drawn to art that they can understand, and for them this means that the art is realistic. For many how ‘good’ or how beautiful a piece of artwork is is determined by how closely it represents reality – it must look like a photograph. A piece of art is good because they ‘like’ it. I would say that these are uneducated persons without a sense of wonder.

    I think though there is another kind of ‘uneducated’ person whose sense of wonder and beauty and curiosity is alive and active. For these persons I think they pick up on a lot of the ideas of art and respond to art intuitively without really having any way of expressing what they see or feel. Ever go to an art museum with a four year old? Thankfully some of us adults keep that sense of wonder! I think these viewers still sort art into categories of ‘like’ and ‘dislike’. (I myself still respond to art in this way – especially when confronted with new pieces and new artists in a new space.)

    I think an educated person is a person who realizes that the balance of what they do not know outweighs that which they do know. This is especially true in art and I always find that the more I know about an artist, the ideas that they were working with, their technique, etc. the more I can appreciate and the more beauty I find in their work. And it’s not just knowledge of the technical language of art which helps me to see and reveal the beauty in a piece (which I believe comes from how closely it displays truth and not necessarily ‘reality’), but it’s also a knowledge of history and literature without which one cannot understand many pieces of art – especially classical pieces.

    I wrote an article some time ago that has a short history of my move from the second kind of understanding/appreciation of art into a more educated response. The focus of this particular article is on the component of ‘story’ and how to get at meaning from that path.

    I have enjoyed your blog, especially your posts about literature – but I enjoy it even more now that I realized I know your mom! Your homeschooling post was amusing 🙂

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