I’ve spent a lifetime painting and drawing and passing on to others insights about these skills, forever pondering the question, ‘What is art?’.

As close as I can get is:
‘Any object made to be viewed aesthetically, when viewed aesthetically’.

Only the artist will fully see the layers of creativity that the work of art has locked up within it. However, by retracing the artist‘s decision-making, we can enjoy some of the frissons of discovery and have some of the experiences that make up the ‘aesthetic response’. The artistic contract has been created.

In my experience of watching gallery-watchers, most people dispatch a painting in three to ten seconds. They will spend more time reading the label than encountering the art object.

We have been taught to read text; we just haven’t been taught to ‘read’ the art object. For many of us our first art instruction took place on mother’s knee, learning to recognise images of things: ‘puppy dog’, ‘pussy cat’, ‘house’, ‘lady’, etc. This ‘object recognition’ approach has stuck with us, with the added sophistication of joining up with a narrative: ‘The lady holds the pussy cat away from the barking dog.’ We read the picture as painted language.

All of my paintings have been created to be viewed aesthetically.

What do I mean by that?

Painting is a form of design. The world is mostly a chaotic set of happen-chances. To the artist or scientist falls the task of bringing it all together, to show order where perhaps little cohesion seems to exist. The artist’s rectangular frame is an artificial device, which, once accepted, dictates to the sensitive eye the many adjustments necessary to adapt the visual world to the structure of the picture plane. This is the act of composition.

The world is ever-changing and 3D; that which is caught on the picture plane is timeless and flat. Rembrandt’s ‘Night Watch’, for example, despite all that it lacks – smell, sound, and changing light sources – has what raw reality doesn’t: design. It is this wrestle between reality and geometry, and the thousands of choices that must be made, that provides the aesthetic adventure which is there to fascinate us, should we wish to stand and ponder.

Robin Norling

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