My partner is an art major at the university I also attend.
In ways we are very similar. We were both encouraged by high school art teachers who fed our thirst for expression. Both of our families emphasized our artistic abilities, supplying us with materials and books on art. We both prefer paper over canvas or clay or carving materials. We both understand the importance of work ethic in art.
However, the major difference of class has served as a sharp divide in our tastes.
A love of abstraction and expressionism still marks everything I touch and seek out.
For example, I find the epitome of everything good and worthwhile in a Mark Rothko—any Mark Rothko. I have sat, a captive of No. 14, 1960, at the S.F. M.O.M.A. until, invariably, the person/people I have gone to the museum with circle the rooms of the second floor of the museum until they feel they have seen all there is to see. I can never see enough of Rothko. His rich, saturated color makes me feel. The first time I saw pictures of the Rothko Chapel, I cried. So much unadulterated pain and devastation all in one place.
To me, this is what art should be. No matter what, its goal should be to make the viewer feel. I find so much beauty and meaning in Rothko because they are so minimal, so pure, they offer so much to take in. That feeling serves as a doorway that can unite us all. We all feel and have the ability to affect and be affected.
This is also what I see in David Lynch and Luis Buñuel—the feeling. Both directors take conventional notions of bourgeois life and turn them on their heads. Both can be uncomfortable, confusing, disturbing—this is where I find the beauty, pushing against the edges of acceptability and norms.
That questioning, that searching that requires pause are why, once upon a time, I was an art major.
My partner’s favorite artist is Takashi Murakami.
Murakami’s “superflat” art marries contemporary Japan with the U.S.A., and is said to wed “low” (i.e., commercial) art with traditional (or “high”) art. His neon cartoons critique consumerism while feeding it. They are, in ways, violently aggressive in the most palatable way possible. They are acts of resistance that ensure the artist’s fiscal stability at the least, and promise (and deliver in Murakami’s case) enormous success.
And, some of Murakami, I really love, but if I look too long at it, I end up feeling sick, sugary-sticky, overfull, sad. Sad for our culture. Sad for our future.
I think of my partner and how different we are. He’s ambivalent towards Rothko and Lynch, has never had a desire to see any Buñuel. I think of how he feels a likeness to Murakami.
I think, maybe that’s the difference. Maybe that’s part of the class of art. Upper class and middle class art is a leap of faith when you know there’s a safety net. It can take risks because there will always be food on the table. Working class art works towards the goal of sustainability, and the act of faith is the buying of supplies. Maybe. Maybe not.