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Are There Rules in Art? - What does art say?
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What does art say?

We are now, I hope, agreed that the esthetic values of art are related to the skill with which it transmits its message. Two portraits may depict the same person; two nativity scenes show the same arrival of the magi, but the way in which this message is delivered will determinate the value we give the work.

The beauty of a poem depends both on the depth of the idea that is expressed, and the skill with which language is used. It is, in fact, rather difficult to get enthusiastic about a poem that, using beautiful words, says ...nothing. Is the same true of painting? Why should it not, like poetic language, transmit a message external to the artistic value

There is a contemporary school of thinking that proposes that the answer is no. For this line of thought, the formal aspects, or even the activity itself rather than the product, represent the artistic value. Applied art’ is somehow tainted by its non-esthetic aspects, and inferior to ‘art pour l’art’. This viewpoint is alien to me, and it is certainly anti-historical. We will never know why the artists in prehistoric times painted the walls of their caves. Almost the entire artistic production previous to the 20th century, however, was triggered by sponsors who were interested in a religious scene, a portrait showing their beauty or social standing, an erotic stimulant, often disguised as a scene of classic mythology, a battle scene that would please their ruler. Even music, which is by its nature more abstract than the visual acts, has its love songs and operas. The main reason I object to the exclusively formal attitude is that the rejection of the motive has often brought us meaningless triviality. I cannot help to think that the work of an artist moved by social injustice (fig. 35) is more interesting than a canvas all painted in black, or the famous urinal exhibited as an art object by Duchamp.

There is an important modern school of artists who produce paintings without a recognizable external subject (figs. 37-40).Their way of managing paint reveals their emotions, and if they are successful, they can transmit them to the observer. In the representative mode of painting as well, much of the painter’s emotive message may be related only indirectly to his ostensive subject. But ultimately this is what counts.

Fig. 43. (Rembrandt)

In the self-portrait, the artist reveals his feelings and moods in a way that has more impact than any words he could have written. This skill of transmitting to us emotions through space and time I believe to be the essence of art.