Artists are those whose gifts set them apart — their talent, wisdom and integrity are superior.

They make beauty, unlock mysteries, serve the truth, make life out of the matter of their visions — between pokes of arrogance and humility, between failure and triumph.

They walk alone, listen to voices unheard by others. They have command over their chosen medium, whether a brush, a pen, a musical instrument or a voice.

They are timeless as the universe itself, yet why do certain expressions of art live for all their time, while others die with the moment?

What does an artist say that is timeless? How does he say it? How much is the fad, how much is merely reflection? Why is Baroque right for one age and too effulgent for another?

Why is Homer hard to read now and George Sand not? Can a standard of craftsmanship apply to art of all ages? Or does have its own different definition?

Some respected critics say that there is no such thing as a set of standards. This would please those resentful of discipline and flatter the empty-minded by calling them open-minded.

It comforts the confused. It is one of the many forms of abdicating from responsibility of judgment, which is common among art observers.

By what values should we measure success or failure? Is there a way to even know that what we think is right? How do you detect the difference between freedom and sloppiness? between strength and violence?

How do you separate the sheep from goats?

What was Van Gogh thinking, when he slashed a brood of black and greys across a white canvas and let the edge dribble down? Was that a statement of violence or a self-portrait?

If some modern painting shock, what does it shock in you? And what of little tight paintings of brilliant flowers in a vase? Does it have any life, any meaning beyond its statement?  Is there any pleasure in its forms or textures?

Questions persist, but the real question among all observers of all forms of art, inexorably is whether it is worthy.  Beautiful or good?  Is  it a decision which you can only make for yourself?

It takes independence and courage, involving, moreover, the rise of wrong decision and humility.

The ultimate form of abdication from responsibility of art  observers is a charming recklessness in the saying: “if anything goes, everything goes,” where at the bottom of all these lie discarded standards.

What are the standards?  How do you get them, or know that they are the right ones that make a clear pattern of so many intangible shades of art?

In our creative art class in Roxbury Park, lessons learned were fairly obvious: the more you read and see and hear, the more equipped you will be, to practice the art of association, which is the basis of all understanding and judgment in the arts

It is about living more, looking more and making a conscious effort to become aware of a consistent pattern — as universal as the stars; as the tides; as breathing; as night and day — that underlies everything.

This was the sum total of all we’ve learned in the whole course. Without the process of association, you cannot link a bar of Mozart with the corner of a Vermeer painting, or a Stravinsky score with a Picasso abstraction, or that which can relate an aggressive act with Frank Klein painting and a fit of coughing with a John Cage composition.

As you begin to detect the difference between freedom and sloppiness, between skill and slickness, between strength and violence, you’re on your way to separating the sheep from the goats.

We were also taught that in time, we all acquire an instinct: born of experience and association, which allows one to separate intent from accident,  design from experimentation and pretense from conviction.

Somewhere along the line, we learn to distinguish between a true creative art and a false arbitrary gesture, between fresh observation and stale clichés.

To appreciate art requires a commitment to standards of that  elusive, immutable realm of truth that we are supposed to keep with us, when we are in the forests of bewilderment.

And  most importantly, we should never be afraid to speak up.


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