In May of 2014 we opened Berliner Freiraum, a gallery and meeting place in the center of one of Berlin’s most known gallery districts.
My Bacherlor’s degree in Youth Ministry and a Master’s degree in Ministry Leadership have served me well, allowing me to work in pastoral jobs that I have loved, but I can’t say that my choice of studies was the right one for running an art gallery. Of course, I never thought I would be leading an art gallery!
That is not to say that I did not appreciate art. A lot of my art appreciation centered around looking for beauty in art. I loved (and still love!) seeing art that is “beautiful”. Everyone has different views of what is beautiful. I love some of the Impressionists like Monet. His Water Lilies painting has long been one of my favorites. The combinations of colors, the light and the life in this picture is something I never get enough of. I know it is completely unfair, but Monet is the Rubrik I often use to judge other Impressionists.
I also love the Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich. Chalk Cliffs on Rugen is one of my favorites of his pictures. A German painter from the early 1800’s, Friedrich often painted moody landscapes: crashing waves, mist and ruins, sometimes with isolated, lonely looking figures. Chalk Cliffs on Rugen has some classic Friedrich elements – like the dominating landscape that makes the figures look small. But I love the life and light in the picture. The curiosity of the figures. The woman holding onto a bush (some think it is Caspar’s wife), and the man in the middle (some think it is Caspar himself) leaning over the side of the cliff. And there leaning against the tree is Mr. Suave, nonplussed by the cavern in front of him, checking out the boats on the sea. Some people see lots of allegory in this picture, but it does not have to be allegorical for me to enjoy it.
I had selected a Rembrandt to show here as well as an example of an old master. But this post is getting long and I have not talked about what I wanted to say in the first place!
And that is this – I am learning that art is more than just beauty.
Art as Preverbal Communication
I was listening to an audio book recently (Getting Unstuck by Timothy Butler) that talked about the importance of mental images as preverbal communication. He talked about how the work of many artists communicate feelings and emotions that they can not put into words. For them, the communication is expressed in art. This can also include art forms such as poetry or music that uses words – but links them together to evoke emotional responses beyond being narrative or descriptive in style.
I have seen this in some of the artists we have exhibited. When we exhibited Mai Kawakita and her abstract “Not Yet but Soon” works, Mai was wrestling with the emotions of disappointed expectations and receiving glimpses of what it meant to follow and see God and then seeming to lose them again. She explored doing this by painting on fabric, cutting it, and weaving it back together.
Art as a Historic Point of View
I have often attached art to history, but more along the lines that art IS history. Artists like Michelangelo and Rembrandt are such a part of history, that I missed the role that art itself plays in offering us a historical perspective.
If art is a form of communication – and if that communication is “preverbal” at times, then art offers us a vital part of understanding history from a perspective not found in a book.
I learned this standing in front of the Adolph Menzel’s “The Iron Rolling Mill” (Modern Cylopses). A book could describe the iron rolling mills from late 1800’s. I could read of the backbreaking work, the heat, the hurried lunches, the assembly line process, the inherent danger, the foremen and all the other details. Reading would have an effect on me, because I am a very verbal person. But seeing the picture captures a perspective of history that, for me, was absent. I would not have pictured it like Menzel painted it. Art gives us another necessary window into history.
Art as a STATEMENT
Other artists use their work to try to help us see social issues in a new way.
Street artist Banksy painted his famous Flying Balloons Girl on the West Bank wall. Regardless of where you stand politically on the issue, there is a statement made by the simple silhouette of a child trying to escape being behind a wall.
It’s simple but powerful.
Next week we are exhibiting an artist named Judith Sturm who works and exhibits in Berlin and Vienna. She has a subtly unique style. One of her exhibits was called “True Colours” and was reviewed by a newspaper (my translation follows). “The exhibit True Colours shows exemplary women who appear both enticing and endangered. They are in their basic essence faceless, their bodies are fragmented, and they are represented with flaws and blemishes. The ‘true colors of personality,’ claims the artist, ‘is found in the skin, not in the face. I believe, that the skin with scars, veins and freckles puts us on the trail of what makes us people.'” She goes on to share that women are not objects without blemishes, like a person sees in a fashion magazine (which is also art making a statement). Take time to notice how she captures beauty – but not without flaws. That is worth both saying and seeing, isn’t it?
So, now that I have shared some of the ways I think art is more than just beauty, I would like you to chime in.
What are some other purposes of art?