My wife and I went to the Tucson Museum of Art to see their current exhibitions (as well as some delicious food at Café à la C’Art) a few days ago and I was surprised by the Livin’ Large: Works from the 1980s exhibition. I hadn’t looked at their website before our visit so I had not known what to expect but it immediately got me thinking–which is of course, always a good thing for an art exhibit.
I’m a product of the 80s – I was born in the early 70s so that’s really no surprise but what did surprise me was how fully I related to the abstract neo-expressionist paintings of the era given that my art education didn’t take place until two decades later and neo-expressionist art wasn’t a big part of my curriculum. I certainly didn’t pay attention to the neo-expressionist paintings when they were made during the 80s, so I was REALLY surprised at the obvious similarities between some of that work and my Urban Abstract series. And that led me to wonder…
Why do we like what we like? It seems obvious that our cultural and our individual upbringings play a role in how we define our likes and dislikes. Scientists research these kinds of questions and while exposure and complexity play important roles, there are still plenty of questions that remain. Part of the problem is, I think, that while it might be relatively easy to quantify preferences for food or even music (both things that we consume over and over again in our lives), visual art might not be consumed on a regular enough basis to form the same kinds of opinions. Our preferences for art might be based on a very wide combination of factors and experiences making it difficult to pinpoint how we develop our likes and dislikes.
We do know that certain kinds of images tend to have a more universal appeal than others. Take the above photograph of the Cable Bridge I made one evening as the sun was setting over the Columbia River – it includes one of the elements that are brains are hardwired to appreciate: water. We (as a species) tend to best appreciate landscapes that depict environments conducive to life so we instinctively appreciate landscapes that look like they might be good for farming and or hunting. Our minds are predisposed to look for patterns too (good for hunting and for avoiding being eaten) so images with patterns might well be more commonly appreciated than images without any discernible pattern. We also tend to value complexity (to a point) so if a photograph is too simple, then it likely won’t hold our attention in a lasting manner but these are just generalities and don’t really explain why we like the styles of art that we do.
In the end, I’m not sure I know why I identify with neo-expressionist art which might be okay but then again, I’m sure there is some value in doing a little self exploration too. I’ll let you know what I learn.