I was never into things that could be explained.
Art doesn't need to be understood. Once upon a time, it was a revolutionary move to interpret a work of art. Now it's not. We used to value capturing the individual interpretation of art; however, you don't need to have an epiphany when you see art. Finding meaning in art is a tricky job, one too complex for me and probably most professional art world people. If we can't understand it, we question what the point of art is. Why has it been around longer than anything else, and why will it outlive everything else? Why do our bones melt into our cells like gold when we see some art and can't explain why.
Throughout history, art has been a lens to reveal perspectives of seeing contemporary society, a language to provoke us to rethink and redefine. The most significant influence on art is society; like humans, it changes radically over time. Despite this, it's not linear. Art is a continuous process of exploration. The process isn't about understanding but about experiencing art and letting it do something to you.
Yet some movements come around once in a lifetime, and others cycle through multiple times. Some more shocking and some more remarkable than others. Some overlap, some last longer than others, and some coincide. Some artists want us to interpret their work, and for others, there is no intent to interpret at all. So why do these trends resurface if everything is so ambiguous?
Surrealism is having a moment right now, as it has several times since it was born in 1924 in Paris, which is somewhat paradoxical considering the principles that form this movement. By (my personal) definition, surrealism is the notion of something in your subconscious mind triggering something in your conscious mind and being more powerful and authentic than any other product of conscious thought. We can visit the unimaginable, take our desires to an unprecedented level and explore states of ecstasy beyond the comprehensible. It's almost unsettling to acknowledge the heightened sense of self possible to experience through surrealism. Creation begins with the thought of how we perceive things. If what we experience in our subconscious comes from within, is this our interpretation of the world? Why do the dreamlike states come back in art when in our dreams, time is irrelevant?
Abstract art can silence our thoughts and guide our senses while having no content. Without content comes no interpretation. When you experience art that has no assigned meaning beyond what you can see, it can make us feel nervous. Or love, which is something we feel for only a few individuals who exist in both our reality and our imagination.
Georgia O'Keeffe was one of the sixth people on earth to make abstract art. It's wild to think of how radical she was, to think, create and exhibit abstract art well before her iconic predecessors. Her work dates back to 1910, before Kandinsky, before Pollock, before Rothko. With everything derived from her imagination, O'Keeffe followed her intuition and painted subjects that expressed her own experience of them. The story of O'Keeffe's practice reminds us that art is not linear. People around her experienced her work as abstract art before it was abstract art. We volunteer our time to tear down the walls of art history to try and understand what we love and what makes us nervous. Abstraction is infectious and boundless and speaks things that we can't say with words. Like surrealism, it gives a role to the subconscious and spontaneity in our minds. It is the drawings in our dreams that never die.
Some movements are fleeting and never return. We will never have a renaissance resurgence, or bring back baroque art, or Italian futurism. These movements are narrative, attached to time and place. They give shape and character to actual events and reflect on what it means to be human. As people, we find this art manageable because we can understand the connections between time, culture, and language. These are the same components that cease to exist in the land of our dreams.
Interpretations of art today are more complex. Contemporary culture centers on mass production and excess. We have technology in our hands to feed our brains endless new material to such an extent that our sensory experience dissipates. We only know how to see more and hear more. The speed of our visual culture eradicates our capacity to experience art because we are always seeking the next thing. We have to remember to surrender to art and accept that only sometimes you can think your way through it. Our bodies reveal how we feel about art. Our biology can't interpret and look for meaning; they can only experience. Next time you look at art, and you're in search of meaning, notice how your body reacts to it. All knowledge is in the body. The body reacts to everything – it's the only way to measure the intangible. Allow yourself to use art as a vehicle to feel emotions, words that your vocabulary can't describe.
See more. Care less.
In 2024 surrealism will be turning 100. Given the recent death of the Queen prohibiting her from sending a letter, I will have a party for surrealism. To register your attendance, say hello firstname.lastname@example.org
By Amalia Mitsopoulos