The Museum of Modern art released an Instagram post the other day of three works of art by Jo Baer. The paintings are a triptec of seemingly empty, framed, canvases. The piece was called “Primary light group: red, green, blue” and MoMa’s commentary was in relation to the artists’ struggle to be seen as a successful, minimalist, female, artist in the 1960’s.
Then I read the comment section. Outrage ensued over the majority of 100+ comments. Some read: “This is what gives art a bad name”, “Oh, come on…this is just ridiculous”, and “Emporer’s new clothes”. I doubt these commenters listened to the interview or researched the artist and her intent. Many missed the point of the art altogether by not asking questions. Had people stopped for a second and asked, “what is the point of that?”, they may have looked into it further and appreciated the intent, the context, and the struggle.
Instead, people brought their own preconceived opinions to the table and based their criticism from their own experiences and definitions of what art should and shouldn’t be, which I’m not saying is necessarily a bad thing because I did the same. Here’s how:
I have recently learned a valuable lesson through medical intervention. I got pink eye from my son. It barely phased him, but physically affected me so badly that I had to take a week off from work. Only a few short days after I healed, I severely burned my tongue on pizza! I could barely eat and had some trouble talking. I know most people don’t believe in divine intervention or even superstition, but I believe God was telling me that I need to watch what I say carefully because I don’t always see the whole picture. I could only interpret that message the way I did because of a rather negative argument based on a public comment I made where I did not see the whole picture and could not anticipate that other people might not interpret my comment the same way as my intent.
Then this Instagram post popped up and that particular experience affected my criticism of the artwork. I asked myself, what am I not seeing? The canvasses are blank so sarcastically, I’m not seeing anything. But the title says “….red, green, blue”. I sat back and noticed the slight, red, green, and blue on the edges of the canvasses. Hence the title of painting. And then the blank area of the canvasses struck a chord with me because to me, they are screaming what our current culture is experiencing today. We all have a voice and we all share our lives and opinions on social media, and like me, sometimes those opinions are based off of minimal information. The information we have could be true but it is not the whole story.
As humans, we cannot fully research every aspect of every issue. I will never be a doctor. I will never be a rocket scientist. I will never be an Olympian. I will never be a historian. If I make a comment on any of those things, it will never be fully correct because I am not living or working the life of those people. And so, these mostly blank canvasses, to me, represent missing information we may never attain. These mostly blank canvasses, to me, remind me now to always ask the question before making a statement, “what am I missing?”,
Had I not gone through what I did, I may not be viewing this artwork in this manner. My interpretation of it is important to me but it is still my interpretation and not necessarily the correct interpretation.
So, it begs the question, as artists, what statements, if any, should we make? I don’t have the answer to that, to be perfectly honest. There’s an age old saying “Paint what you know”, which I tend to agree with. I wouldn’t paint scenes of war if I’ve never been through it or lived on an army base or something. I wouldn’t paint aboriginal art if that’s not my culture. I wouldn’t paint scenes of Japanese landscapes if I’ve never been there. I might have opinions of war, and aboriginal culture or Japanese landscape, but it’s not me and not what I know best. What do you think? What would you do?