I don’t know art, but I know what I like

“…and I like that.” It’s the self-deprecating disclaimer that precedes an opinion of someone’s artwork which we hear all the time. A person sees a piece of art and forms an instant reaction to it. No cerebral academic argument, no justification, just a simple “I like that” or “It’s not for me.”

Far from being an uneducated reaction, though, it’s the most honest of reactions to art. It says the viewer has seen something, and it either made a connection with them, or failed to. No education is required to make an instant reaction, just an acknowledgement of the reaction that a piece of art caused in us.

The less helpful statement is “You can’t call that art!”. French artist, Marcel Duchamp, said “It’s art because I say it is.” His signed urinal (which he named “Fountain”) didn’t connect with some people – many protested that it could not be called “art”. He called it “Ready-made” art. But the real argument isn’t about whether it is art or not – it’s whether or not it made a connection with me.

This year is a huge year for art in the Yarra Valley. The Yarra Glen Art Show was a great success again, The Archibald Prize exhibition will be hung at Tarrawarra for the first time ever in July, and the Yarra Valley Open Studios promises to be better than ever. On a local level, the council are running “Not the Archies” for local artists to show portraits of local people. The Artist’s Lounge has opened in Healesville, selling art, art supplies, and artisan wares. Acme Et Al in Yarra Glen opens its doors soon. Mud Glass Metal in Healesville continues its success with the work of four local artists. The run of high quality exhibitions at the Upper Yarra Arts Centre and other regional galleries continues. There has never been so much art for us to consume in the Yarra Valley.

So, what should you look for in this sea of art in the Yarra Valley this year? How do we make the most of the inspiring creativity we have to opportunity to view? How do we approach it? Well, firstly be unashamed of your gut reaction. It’s the visceral connection that an artwork makes with you. You DO know art – it made you react.

As to whether or not you like it, try to understand why you’ve had the reaction that you’ve had. It might be new, challenging, or different. It might not be something you’d take home and live with, but has a perfectly comfortable home in an exhibition. This, I’ll admit, is often my reaction to a work of art. I am not sure I want to live with it in my home, but I am profoundly affected by it and am better-off for having seen it. I am glad that someone has taken the time to make it.

If the artwork challenges you, then stand up to it – take the challenge. Argue with it. In galleries you often overhear these arguments – “I can see what the artist was saying there, but…” At the end of the day, that’s what the artist wants – to engage you, the viewer, in a conversation. Be sure of yourself, but be prepared to change your mind as the artwork argues back. Be prepared to walk away saying “I thought I didn’t know art, and I thought I knew what I liked…”

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