By Simran Kaur Takhi
As an appreciator of art, it saddened me to overhear someone describe it once as some things that were just thrown together. Also art is often described as having no real meaning. WRONG. This idea that art must conform to the rule of being an aesthetically pleasing masterpiece completely rules out a whole host of thought-provoking and abstract ideas that makes pursuing art worthwhile. Art requires reflection from the viewer for it to mean something. In this piece, I will be talking about several pieces of art and will show how an open mind can draw meaning from such pieces.
Tracy Emin’s 1998 My Bed is a classic example of art that has not been taken seriously by the public. Indeed, on the surface, it may seem like a clumsy attempt to be controversial but is more than that. With the discarded fag butts, vodka bottles and grimy bed sheets, Emin depicts an intimate period of her life when she suffered from depression. Her grim, man-made surroundings depict the turbulence that depression can bring. A bed is not merely a bed but rather, an intimate picture of how Emin once lived.
Conceptualism is an example of an art form that is likely to be easily dismissed. This is because, in conceptualism, the visual display is seen as more of a vehicle to express a particular idea rather than the focus being on aesthetics themselves. Joseph Kosuth’s seminal 1965 piece entitled One and Three Chairs is a well-known example of such art.
This piece also serves as a great example of how art requires patience and an open mind to gain meaning from it. In what dimension do we see a chair? Is it something that can be touched? Replicated? Expressed through language? Could it be that the fourth chair is whatever the viewer wants it to be? As in the case of Emin’s My Bed, art is whatever the viewer makes of it.
Visual artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ 1991 Portrait of Ross shows how moving art can be. What’s so special about the multi-coloured mound of sweets is how its desired effect completely depends on the viewer to engage with it. The sweets embody Torres’ partner, Ross who died of AIDS. The sweets themselves weigh just under 80 Kilograms for this was supposedly the weight of Ross at passing. Viewers are invited to take a sweet from the mass and therefore keep Ross’ legacy with doing so. Staff would ensure that the pile would always equate to Ross’ body weight by adding to it. The replenishment of the pile meant that theoretically, viewers enabled Ross to be immortal. Art which encourages viewers to directly engage with it is known as relational aesthetics and, as Torres has shown, can have a powerful effect on the viewer.
Frida Kahlo was a painter well known for her self-portraits. Her story is one of great misfortunate. At age six, she suffered from a bout of polio, causing paralysis. At the age of eighteen, a bus accident resulted in her spine being broken in three places. At 24, she suffered from the first of several miscarriages.
In 1944, a self portrait entitled The Broken Column, embodies her tragedies perfectly. The artificial column and the tape that she is bound with represent the lacklustre condition of her own body. The piercing nails may symbolise restraint and her own agony from having endured such awful events. Could it be that her broken state, however, is in juxtaposition with what her upper body shows? Note how she stands tall and paints herself with a straight posture that is commonly associated with confidence and bravery. Turning emotional turmoil and heartbreak into something as positive as paintings that inspire generations is what makes Frida one of a kind.
To view The Broken Column, see the Tate Gallery website. All that is needed to appreciate the art of Emin, Kosuth, Gonzalez-Torres and Kahlo is an open mind.
Simran is currently studying psychology at Manchester Metropolitan University. She is passionate about poetry, alternative music and all things 90s.