Art can be beautiful. It can be ugly or just plain disgusting. The variety of emotions that artists can produce with a few brushstrokes is astounding. But do we actually look at our work from such a perspective or can our emotions sometimes get sidetracked (or even more often) by the concepts and ideas that our works should communicate?
It all depends on what you do; if you’re a heavy conceptual artist, working with abstract ideas and philosophical notions with no strong substance, emotional approaches to your work probably aren’t your primary concern, but for anyone working with a strong emphasis on medium and execution, it is always the emotional level that the viewer sees (or rather experiences) first.
Take for example Joseph Beuys’ work Fat Chair (or any work made with felt and/or fat) and the first thing anyone experiences is the raw nature of the material. No-one, who isn’t familiar with his work goes up to a sculpture of Beuys for the first time and starts to admire his symbolism, even though his story is touching indeed; he was onboard a German fighter plane and crash-landed in Crimea (Russia), the pilot died and he was badly wounded but luckily for him, some Russian farmers found him and nursed him back to health with fat (mostly what they had to eat). They even sheltered him from the Russian army (WW2, so Beuys, as a German, was in enemy territory) by rolling him up in felt and hiding him in some corner in the attic of the house. And from this traumatic experience his fat and felt symbolism was born.
Now, after knowing his story, his curious objets become much more than “mere” producers of emotion. They are now part of a narrative where emotion and concept bind together in unison, creating the full experience that anyone who knows about the artist and has encountered his works in person is familiar with. And I highly recommend it to anyone who isn’t, but this isn’t the point of today’s blog.
I would like to use today as a reminder that regardless if we follow ideas or emotions in our endeavours as artists, in the end our primary focus should always lean more on emotion rather than ideas. Because while ideas are the foundation, our work is build upon, they are not the key that opens it up to others, who (without knowing at least as much about our work as we do) first and foremost experience, and only after that phase, conceive. Not saying that concepts aren’t important, that’s why Beuys was mentioned, but if his story would have been communicated by wrapping pianos in mink fur rather than felt and replacing fat with caviar (both still very Russian ingredients), well the emotions that such objects would generate would change drastically. And most likely for the worst.