Section 1: Learning to Look

When I was about twelve years old a friend took me on vacation  to Lake Tahoe.   It was lots of fun, but what I chiefly remember about the trip is not the lake or the mountains or the wide tables of cheap food, but a long, dark corridor filled with clowns.

We were wandering the perimeter of a casino when we came upon them, lined up on a wall.  Each velvet painting had a little light over it.  There were no other lights and the effect was eerie.

“Wow!” my friend said.  “Look at this!”

We walked along and gave each little fellow our full attention.

“They’re awful,” I said.

“You couldn’t do them!” She defended.

I stopped.  “What does that have to do with it?”

But she was half way down the hall, in a huff, in a hurry, so I ran after her.

I was puzzled by her response and even more puzzled by my own.  How come she couldn’t tell they were awful? Why would she base her opinion on whether or not she could do them?

And of course, she had to be right.  Educated grownups had chosen them.  They’d probably paid a lot of money for the creepy things, and they’d gone to a lot of trouble to display them.  They had to be good.

Except that they weren’t.  The trouble was, I couldn’t say why.  I didn’t have the facts or vocabulary to back up my opinion.   It was frustrating.

So I went after them.  And in learning to look and talk about art I discovered that art has been puzzling to a lot of people for a long time.   At first, I was dismayed at the breadth of information.  But then I was glad; I needed a considerable arsenal to take down the clowns.

I’m still building it.  Organizing my classes have helped me, and I’m hoping that taking my class will help you.  It’s just a start, but after a few months, you should have enough background to explain why Picasso’s Guernica is better than Lichtenstein’s Whaam!.  Or why Bernini’s Ecstasy of St. Theresa is greater than Warhol’s Brillo Boxes.   You have to be ready to take on whatever is thrown at you.

You have to be ready for the velvet clowns.

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