Experiencing Art – Preprint Draft
Chapter 1: Overture
“That would look nice on my wall…”
Why do we adorn our walls with such things as paintings, photographs, and posters? What
determines our choice of such “artworks”? For many years, in numerous college apartments and
beyond, I had a poster of
Regatta at Argen-
(Figure 1.1) hanging on
my wall. For me, the painting
expressed the essence of aes-
thetic beauty. I loved the
scenery, its colors, and par-
ticularly Monet’s brushwork.
I marveled at the reflections
of the sailboats in the water.
Those splotches of paint,
when placed within the con-
text of the scene, rendered
of the water’s
reflection, though in the real
world we would never see
water in such a manner.
Many people resonate with Impressionism, as evidenced by the crowds who flock to the
Musée D’Orsay in Paris to see some of the best recognized paintings in this genre, including
gatta at Argenteuil
. But it wasn’t always that way. The cadre of painters who initiated Impres-
sionism, such as Manet, Monet, and Renoir, were scorned and vilified during their day. Their
paintings were considered unworthy by the
Académie des Beaux-Arts
Academy of Fine Arts
the organization that controlled the French art scene during the 19
Century. Critics at the time
described their work as crude, unfinished, and lacking skill (see Barasch, 1998). Indeed, many
purported that Impressionist paintings could hardly be called
. Now, in the same paintings, we
see beauty, grace, and harmony. What’s changed?
We must experience art within the realm of our cultural and personal knowledge. To a
large extent, what we know determines what we like. In the eyes of 19
century observers, Im-
pressionism was a radical departure from paintings coveted by the established art community.
Yet in the span of 150 years, a once ostracized style is now considered by many as the epitome
of visual aesthetics. Clearly, our past experiences and knowledge determine what we find aes-
thetically pleasing. In fact, it is often difficult to appreciate new works of art, because they are
not easily understood. We now fully appreciate Impressionist paintings, though it is not uncom-
mon to overhear a visitor at a contemporary art museum whispering to another, “Is that art?”
Such changes in aesthetic appreciation across time force us to consider the importance of know-
ledge in driving our experiences with art. Thus, in addition to sensual and emotional aspects,
knowledge plays a key role in experiencing art.