The Con of Art

(originally published in 2014)

Every time you stand in front of a painting there is a conversation. This conversation has a unique dynamic, very similar to poetry, in which the dialogue is three ways, between the viewer, the artist and the art. The viewer rarely meets the artist and vise versa. One might assert that the art is a bridge, a basic form of communication, not unlike prose or music. But it is quite different.

Everything you see in a work of art you already have with you. Each emotion, allegory, symbol or susceptibility to any of its qualities were carried with you up until that point. The painting doesn't give, it summons.

The painters job in this is to know how to start this reaction. For some paintings it is obvious; a beautiful, well-rendered set of figures situated against a certain set of props will bring to mind a popular myth or story. Farm animals placed in a rural scene may invoke a nostalgia for simpler things, fresh air, warm sunlight. These are common, just as poems of love are.

Occasionally, though, one crosses paths with a painting that stirs something that there is no language for. Aha! That is art. Maybe it's an uneasiness, maybe a longing, maybe love, but it's really none of that. And yet at that moment it feels just as valid and important as any of those. That light that has no discernible source. There may be a narrative to be followed, but it is only incidental, a foundation perhaps for the feeling to float above.
This is art mastered.
And that is the deceit.

You see, no matter how one tries to hold it aloft, it is still simply paint on canvas.
The term "con" comes across as negative, but I assure you in this case it is not. The con of art is the most wonderful lie that anyone can encounter.

And all of this is made possible to witness by alchemy. This term conjures up stories of psuedo-scientists in dark cellar laboratories attempting and failing time after time to convert anything and everything to gold. It did for me at least. That is however a romanticized description, for alchemy is much broader and mysterious than that. Simply put, alchemy is the act of convincing an element to be something it is not, forcing it to bend to the will of its handler. Fine art is this act in its purest form.
If an artist needs flesh he conjures it not from flesh, but lead and mercury. Flame from cadmium and titanium. A leaf from hematite and limonite.
Upon close inspection and taken out of its context, the act of painting coupled with the resulting effects on the viewer is astoundingly similar to sorcery.

Picasso said "Art is the lie that tells the truth", and I don't even mind. We have far too little mystery in our lives these days.