The next time you’re visiting an art museum or gallery, try this experiment and see where it takes you.
While you’re looking at a painting, imagine that you’re seeing a slowly-forming image of the artist working on that painting coming into view. In other words, you’re standing on one side of the painting while the busy artist is standing on the other side, creating it. More on this in a moment.
You know, usually while I’m interviewing artists, I ask them what I consider one of the most important questions I can ask an artist. I ask this question, dear reader, on your behalf …
“Do you want people who see your work to view it the same way that you see it?”
Keep in mind, I’ve interviewed literally hundreds of artists. Not one … no, not one artist has ever said that they want people who see their work to view it the same way as they do.
Is that not amazing? Artists do NOT necessarily want you to see their work in the same way that they see it. Do you know why?
Because you have your own mind. No one knows that more than artists.
Artists know that people who see their work have their own brains, hearts and perceptions about the things they see. This makes perfect sense and yet somehow it gets lost in the overall dialogue about art.
This is a revelation. It means that whenever you look at art, whatever you see in it cannot be wrong. That’s unless you’re horribly wrong … but no matter. We’ll call curators to the rescue.
I remember back when I was a second or third grade school kid visiting the Guggenheim Museum. I recall seeing Kandinsky and Mondrian paintings and instantly connecting with them. I was spellbound by Mondrian’s bright, geometric colors and black lines that seemed playful, almost like building blocks or something. Mondrian did Rubik’s cubes before Rubik.
I also cannot forget walking around and around on that upward and downward spiral inside the Guggenheim and just stopping on each floor and being bombarded by the primary lessons of color on canvas. I didn’t need a teacher to explain anything to me. I got it instantly. I totally understood.
At that early age, I was in communion with art. There was nothing or no one interfering with our relationship. At that time, art was primal. Art was emotional, intellectual and spiritual for me. No lesson needed. At that point, I could have taught class to some of the adults also assembled inside the gallery because they were jaded while I was blissfully clued in to the secret language of art.
My eyes and my heart danced to the music those masterpieces were producing. It was a thrilling field trip designed just for me.
And then, I grew up. I lost it. I didn’t visit any museums or galleries nor did I have any real contact with art in school. The concerns of life intervened for quite some time.
But one day, many, many years later, it all came back to me during a visit inside the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. I don’t recall what I saw, but I do remember asking myself…
“Why have I been away so long?” “What happened?”
And with that, my relationship with art picked back up almost where it had left off. I was seeing a childhood friend again, but this time in adulthood. My friend had a name and his name was “Art.” I would say “Arthur,” but we’re living in more casual times.
Do you know why childhood friends are so great? Because when you meet up again, you realize that even though you’ve both evolved and grown, you really haven’t changed. You can be your authentic self with this other entity who knows you from WAY back. You can both see straight through all of the education, sophistication, struggle and cynicism. They all melt away like hot, dripping wax on a candle.
But I digress.
Right now, I’m imagining that I’m looking at one of Kandinsky’s masterworks. I’m basking and bathing in those wiry, color-block confections. It’s candy for the eyes.
As I’m staring, I’m becoming, “Michael in Wonderland” and what’s that I see? Why, it’s Mr. Kandinsky himself! We're standing on opposite sides of the painting, but I actually feel like I'm inside the painting. I must say he looks great. He’s wearing his wire-rimmed glasses along with a sharp, tweed suit, white shirt with paisley tie, plus shiny, black wingtip shoes. In short, he’s ready for his Esquire cover shot.
“Mr. Kandinsky! I didn’t know you were going to be here!” I say with great joy.
“Well, of course I’m here young man,” Kandinsky says. “I created this world. Were you expecting Pablo?”
“Oh no, Mr. Kandinsky. I just thought that I had to get someone else’s permission to get this close to your painting. I’m actually inside your painting with you!” “This cannot be real. Is it?”
“I can assure you this is very real,” Kandinsky replied. “And who told you that you had to get someone else’s permission to understand my work?”
“Well … I’m not sure,” I replied. “I just thought I did. I'm still learning about art.”
And Kandinsky said …
“Young man, this world that I’ve created is about you and me and right now, no one else is involved. You got that?”
“Yes sir,” I answered. “Sorry.”
“Oh, there’s no need to be sorry. Enjoy! I made this for YOU to see. However, I have to go now. I’m in the middle of another piece. I think I’m going to call it ‘Black and Violet,’ but I’m not sure yet.”
“Wow, thanks Mr. Kandinsky,” I replied.
“Oh, there’s no need to call me Mr. Kandinsky,” he responded. “Call me Wassily. We’re friends and you’re welcome to stay here and play for as long as you’d like! Or … at least until the guards kick you out! Peace Bro!”
And with that, Wassily disappeared from my view, but I continued to peer into the painting and as I looked, I saw another vision appear. What was it?
It was me. Me?
I was gazing into a mirror. Maybe I should call it a looking glass because it was so wondrous. I was surrounded by light and colors and everything was lined up so very perfectly. I had never seen myself this way, but here I was, looking into this mirror of a painting.
I saw myself at my very best. In this moment, I was my highest self. I was me. I was my ideal self as revealed through art. It was a hyperreal moment.
Art is the language of our eyes. The secret to understanding art isn’t a secret at all. It’s more like a hidden surprise … a surprise that reveals itself after we drop the pretense, get real and search a little … like a child playing hide and seek in a garden maze. Seek and ye shall find. Your perfect relationship … and yours alone.
It’s a cool adventure … a delightful journey … a wild ride … a beautiful payoff … a stunning touchdown ... a soul kiss … a pat on the back … a regal reward ... and a crowning glory.
It’s just bad ass.
The secret to understanding art is about making a direct connection to the creator and then realizing that the creator is speaking to you and reflecting you. It’s all about you … not the dressed up you that you present to others, but the real you ... the most beautiful part of yourself that you keep hidden away for fear of being judged.
You are enough. This is what art says to you. It’s all about you. The art has brought itself. It showed up. It's right there in front of you specifically for you to see. Now YOU must show up and spend some time with it. Trust yourself. It’s a journey of communion and growing confidence.
Pssssttt! That’s it. The secret is out! But don’t tell anyone that I’m the one who told you.