Drowning in Art

Asha and I have had the chance to drop by a few renowned art museums over the last few weeks. It's been a strange experience for me. When I'm looking at these world-famous paintings, I feel like I'm drowning. I don't know how to swim in this kind of art. I've seen some of the most lauded pieces of art in human history and my gaze passes over the work, gasping for something yet returning nothing. Art should move us and so far these art museums have been an experiment in going nowhere.

Art is undoubtably a subjective experience. The further you drill down, the more the objectivity of the viewer unravels, giving in to raw subjectivity. Every kid has been thrown for a loop when they try to wrap their head around whether the blue that they see is the blue that others see. Maybe the styles of painting that I have encountered aren't for me and that's the end of the story. Certainly, the vast collection of religious art is emphatically not preaching to the choir.

Alternatively, it could be that I'm drowning because I lack the requisite foundation from which to appreciate the work. It could be that I'm outside of the flow channel in Mihály Csíkszentmihályi's flow channel): I have a healthy amount of interest, but too much difficulty. For me, though, that begs the question: is there value in the intrinsic accessibility of art? At least on my end, there's something immediate about good art in other mediums. Powerful writing, music, or film just hits you. You don't need to play classical music to be moved to tears by a beautiful symphony or have to be able to write a novel to be transported by a passage. Of course, the same feeling of drowning could be present when others try to swim in these mediums.

With that said, I think there's some value in drowning. We should all feel completely out of our depth every once in a while. A healthy serving of humility has never hurt anyone. But I still think there's some intrinsic merit to art's accessibility. Maybe someone can throw me a lifeline and keep me from drowning in art any longer?