Cape Cod Art Preservation Society
ESSAY

Does Art Education Equal Art Appreciation?

Goldfish By Matisse I have loved art my entire life.

I came from an artistic family, and from my infancy my parents took my siblings and me to museums and art galleries.

One of my earliest art-education experiences was playing a board game called Masterpiece. The premise of the game consisted roughly of each player being an art collector and you built your collection from a deck of cards featuring some of the great paintings throughout history.

Those painting cards taught me both about famous artists and famous paintings.

My early artistic endeavors (ages 6 - 12) were focused on illustrating the little books I created and also trying to become a comic strip artist like my hero Charles Schulz.

Art and My Teen Years

In my early teens I started to experiment with painting, but I was generally undisciplined and didn't have any real methodology.

But during my teens my love for art grew. I became a big fan of Matisse and Renoir because I liked the bright colors they used. There was no real analysis beyond that pure gut feeling of "I like it". If someone asked me why I liked their work, I probably wouldn't have had much to say beyond, "I like the way I feel when I look at it". So much so that when I got my first office jobs in cubicles, I would always hang up a well-worn print of Matisse's "Goldfish" because the bold colors and those orange fish picked up my mood.

Which brings us to the gist of this article: was my relatively uneducated, raw response more or less meaningful than what eventually happened to my opinion? We'll return to this question later.

I Start to Become a 'Serious Artist'

In my twenties I started to become a more dedicated student of art: history, technique, composition, genres...in sum, I became Educated.

I started to knuckle down and learn about methodology, the processes of the masters that came before me, the discipline required to create lasting works of art. I became very analytical about why I liked some paintings and disliked others.

What makes "Painting X" a masterpiece, and "Painting Y" less so?

And the more I learned and the better I got, something strange began to happen - paintings that I used to love, I didn't love so much anymore.

Matisse in particular.

Now, instead of seeing the work as a whole, I was also seeing all of its individual parts. Suddenly, instead of just bright, colorful paintings that made me happy, I was seeing bare canvas and pencil lines and sloppy, lazy workmanship.

I was starting to realize that many (if not most) of Matisse's "masterpieces" were probably cranked out in 15 minutes.

Does Effort = Merit?

So back to the question posed earlier - does my intimate knowledge of painting make me more or less qualified to appreciate a piece of art with sincerety?

I honestly don't know the answer, and I grapple with it.

I'm generally of the frame of mind of Bernard of Chartres and Isaac Newton - we are standing on the shoulders of artistic giants. The lessons learned from the likes of Da Vinci, the Dutch Masters, and later John Singer Sargent and Winslow Homer should be built upon to create similar works of genius.

But the 20th century Deconstructionists threw all of that out the window. With artists like Rothko, Matisse and others skill and effort didn't seem to matter. As long as someone did something unique, it didn't matter how much craftsmanship (if any) went into the creation.

And I know that millions of people sincerely love these modern works of art. I visited the Tate Museum in London and it seems like the Brits are especially passionate about American Abstract Expressionism. Who am I to say it isn't art?

On the other hand, it's hard for me to say that a canvas painted solid red is a Work Of Art the same way that a Rembrandt is.

Oh well. I guess I should be happy that anyone is interested in any kind of art these days.