[Viewpoint]Embrace eccentricity

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[Viewpoint]Embrace eccentricity

Have you ever been so moved at an art exhibition that you cried? Have you ever had the experience of being completely absorbed in art?
Contemporary art is often difficult and incomprehensible in its theme and content, and you might not be able to fully enjoy it by just looking at it. Still, an art exhibition is visual communication. Sometimes, you cannot understand and fully appreciate it without an explanation.
We are unconsciously being trained to “view” visual images every day in magazines, television shows, films and advertisements. Display, an element of exhibitions, is also a common feature in everyday life. We learn to appreciate display designs even in products for sale in shop windows. When various exhibitions in our daily lives are so normal, why do we find contemporary art exhibitions so distant and difficult?
In an adult education class, a man asked me how he should approach contemporary art. He wondered why he could not feel the same sensation in contemporary art that he felt on seeing Vincent van Gogh’s “Irises.” He could not understand why he wasn’t able to appreciate works by artists living today.
How can you turn the frustration of difficult and incomprehensible contemporary art into curiosity?
Above all, you need to visit exhibitions frequently. It is important to go to exhibitions whenever the chance arises. As you are exposed to more and more contemporary art, you will discover your personal tastes and realize what you like. It is best to form the habit of enjoying art exhibitions, concerts and theater performances at a young age.
Second, you should ask the curator of an exhibition when you have questions on the artwork or have trouble understanding the artist’s intentions. Most people working at exhibitions are happy to explain the pieces to the visitors.
Third, you need to read the exhibition reviews in newspapers and magazines and compare the angle of the professional critic with your own perspective. In the course of reading reviews, you obtain information and can form the habit of contemplating art.
Finally, you should go to the openings of exhibitions. At most openings, you can meet the artist in person. You won’t get a better opportunity to discuss the art and the goal the artist is pursuing.
Koreans have been so accustomed to the memorization-oriented method of learning from an early age, that they feel awkward enjoying culture by thinking about it freely.
Now is the time to practice enjoying culture. Contemporary art does not often gain due appreciation on its own time.
As we all know, van Gogh and many beloved artists today only truly became acknowledged and appreciated widely after their death.
Except for a few experts, it is hardly possible to realize the greatness of contemporary artists who attempt styles that have never been seen. Impressionists painted different colors of light through a prism based on the development of optics at the time, but their attempts were initially unfamiliar to their contemporaries and not easily accepted.
Experimenting with new methods and content is the charge of the artists, who should have a challenging and experimental spirit.
However, our concept of art might have been distorted through our education in school.
I remember getting a good grade for depicting objects realistically in an art class at school. While I was taught to highly regard realistic depictions, that yardstick no longer applies in the contemporary art world.
Contemporary artists are trying to attain the newness van Gogh found during his time. Therefore, contemporary art might seem difficult or unfamiliar. Because the artists are expressing their thoughts in a new way, it naturally feels strange.
Unless we study art history, it might be difficult to appreciate and evaluate fresh attempts in contemporary art. But let’s embrace novelty and strangeness and enjoy art now.

*The writer is a professor of art theory at the Korea National University of Art. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Seon-jeong
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