As a young girl, perhaps 10 years old, I wrote adventure stories. Novels inspired by the books I lent from the library. Aged 17, I wrote music as well and recorded two full albums in my tiny home studio. There wasn’t a day I didn’t write. It’s still like that today with the difference I’m now being paid for it. That didn’t stop me from blogging about art and creating Museologue over 3 years ago and write even more on the side. Because writing is my medium. And this blog is my way to communicate with you. If we can’t speak directly, Museologue is where we meet.
Spotify tip while reading this post:
You don’t have to say anything back (although it would be great to hear from you), yet I like to think we communicate somehow. My words on your laptop screen might give you new ideas, relax you, or remind you of something you once saw or did. In that way, it’s quite like art.
The perfect painting
Likewise, the topic of communication reminds me of a thing that happened last weekend. I was visiting a befriended artist who is gifted with a lifelong desire to paint. He created numerous stunning works of art over the course of more than 40 years. Mostly portraits and self-portraits, but also paintings of Persian rugs that look so realistic you just know what it must feel like to rub them. He experimented with different styles and sold most of what he made. You can call him successful as an artist.
But now he decides to quit.
He says that after all these years, he still feels unable to have his paintings convey precisely what he wants to say. He just can’t find that magic of the ultimate expression. I imagine he is looking for the paint-counterpart of that one song that seems to encompass how we feel, spotlessly. Or like that one old sentence that simply says it all. A thing that resonates within us and that has all the right ingredients, emphases, structures, and nothing obsolete. Perfection.
30.000 years of arty communication
But wait, is my artist friend not good enough as a painter? Or don’t his feelings survive through brushes and into paint? Or do we just not get it? In any case, it’s a communication issue getting in the way. Either the message, the transmitter, or the receiver is corrupt. And with that, my friend base-lined the very reason art was one day invented. Let’s get back in time.
Around 30.000 years ago on one particular day, someone just came up with the idea of painting something, I imagine. With berry-juice or sheep blood for pigment and hands as brushes, that person painted a message. One to convey to audiences that weren’t nearby. People not present, people in the future, or perhaps even Gods we can’t see. Apparently, humans have wanted to create visual messages since we started to replace the Neanderthals, placing my artist friend in a long, long tradition.
Ironically, we lost the messages while the pictures remained. We recognize the horses and hands in the caves, but we have no idea why they were painted there, deep inside the darkness. Probably those painters had words for the meaning of their paintings, but we don’t have them anymore. The message got stuck in prehistory, long before writing was invented. So in a way, this cave art exists only in art-form, not in words. Is there still a message in it for us?
5.000 years of writing
We’re skipping 25.000 years to around 3.000 B.C. and our ancestors invent the art of writing. You would expect that this invention solves all communication issues, now having pens and paper to record our messages. We built up over 5.000 years of collective writing experience since those first scribbles. We created and cracked the enigma. We study linguistics and history (guilty) to close the gaps. An impressive human resumé! But unbelievably, we still loose messages, destroy them, misunderstand them, or ignore them, both the old and the recently recorded. Sometimes messages themselves come unexplained, incomplete, or twisted. So writing doesn’t always communicate better than art!
Actually, art can even do things that writing really can’t. Because art can say the wordless, but we can’t write what we don’t have words for.
Reading about art
When I write about art, there is a part of it that I can’t describe. The sensation of seeing an art piece, the scent of a museum hall, the impact of a color: I can come close in written descriptions and adjectives and it may sound beautiful, but to experience art is really to see it.
For me this is true. Some go further and want to see art strictly without explanations. They crave crisp white museum walls to experience art uninfluenced. And only use imagination and emotion to interpret paintings. They believe that only this way, they get the true, intended messages. Trouble is, how do they know their interpretations are true?
But perhaps this doesn’t matter. Perhaps all that matters is what you take from art. If you feel anything but indifference it was worth it, and if you even learn from it, the better. So sure, the cave paintings carry messages for us, anything you like! If they have meaning to us today, who cares?
The other camp, that has my other foot in it, believes in stories to understand art. Ever saw a painting and liked it modestly, until a museum guide or audio guide explained you things? ‘It was painted in Timbuktu by this super amazing artist that lost his left arm and, by the way, did you see that one little detail at the back that means such and so?’ Nine out of ten times, you hadn’t seen it and as by magic, your view of the painting twists 180 degrees. Every time this happens, I know that no art history course will ever teach me enough not to need and enjoy this storytelling around art. And it makes me appreciate it more.
Blogging about art: storytelling and museums
These stories are why I love blogging about art at Museologue. I really enjoy finding out about art and share it with you. Even though some things are hardly transmitted in words. So here’s the deal: you can get stories here at Museologue and we communicate about it, then you take anything from it that inspires you the most. And then you go for that experience and smell the scents. Take in the colors and receive all those messages from the past, crazily wrapped in brushstrokes and paint. On cave walls and in museums alike, further explained or not.
And who knows, one day you will even find the very message my artist friend seeks to send into the world. I hope by then you will have found the words to tell me about it.