The worn-out phrase “Art for art’s sake,” repeated throughout the Romantic Era, is a slogan that expresses the value of art as non-didactic and independent from all social values and morality. It suggests that art should have no purpose of advocating any values or norms of the society, and if art does have a purpose, it should be a purely aesthetic experience. However, is all art capable of achieving that goal? If art is only for art’s sake then how do we distinguish the difference between “good art” and “bad art”?
In order to value something, one needs to first design a standard or logic to differentiate what is better from what is worse. Although art seems to only be a media that leads to purely sensual experiences, there is still logic that hides subtly beneath each masterpiece. It’s unfortunate that there are differences between Matisse’s seemingly coarse paintings of mixed colors and the the mix of colors I painted when I was in kindergarten. Though our emotions while painting might be similar, his use of color is clearly more advanced and thoughtful.
I was inspired to seek the deeper meaning and logic of art when I saw the paintings of Rebecca Xi ’18. At first glance, her artwork appeared to be simply beautiful. However, after a closer look, her designs and color combinations revealed more than just casual expressions of feelings: they were a skillful and thoughtful attempt to deliver messages. I scheduled an interview with her to learn more about her painting experience. She focused on her skills and using them logically to express her love of the medium.
Chris Liu: When did you first started painting?
Rebecca Xi: I went to an art school in New Jersey when I was five. And I took [pastel] classes for a couple of months, but it didn’t really work out for me because I was too young to understand the techniques. When I was twelve I went back to the art school and officially started learning sketch, because [my teachers] believed that you need to learn how to sketch first in order to paint. So this is only the second year that I have been painting. I still go to that art school every week.
Chris: Were you especially interested in painting when you were five?
Rebecca: No, actually my mom just took me there [and I]went along with it. I didn’t really enjoy sketching because it was so detailed, and only in black and white. So when I finally got to [paint], I was really excited.
Chris: Can you tell me more about the art school that you went to? How did they teach you?
Rebecca: It is a more traditional style of painting, although they don’t teach you any art history. They focus entirely on the actual painting … You start with copying paintings that you see from books, then when you have enough skills they let you formulate your own ideas and draw your own pictures. Like all the paintings that I submitted, they are creative paintings.The school’s teaching of skills kind of changed my perspectives in real life too. For example, when I walk to classes I just imagine what everything will be like if they are in a painting.
Chris: How did you come up with the ideas to draw these things?
Rebecca: I just think. They are pretty random. Sometimes I draw … things that mean something [to] me. For example, I love playing violin so [painting] it meant something for me, like the beauty of instruments. And the painting of a girl in the library is because I love reading. But some are just random thoughts, like the painting of food. And that was really fun to paint too.
Chris: I see you have some really interesting use of colors in your painting. Is that one of the most important factors for you when you are painting?
Rebecca: Again, …my art school [placed] huge emphasis on using different colors and shades while painting. Some color combinations were intended. For example…before I started [the violin painting] I just knew that I wanted to put more orange on the side and more purple on the places where light was reflected…when I look at a picture I just try to pick out which color fits the most and [I think about] how they will work together as a whole. As for the background, it is less planned out: I [pick colors] according to my mood.
Chris: What was the most frustrating thing about painting?
Rebecca: The main art teacher at my art school is very strict. She is a really good teacher but she will get very mad at you if you did something “wrong.” …the most frustrating thing was to get yelled at for not doing it “right.” For example, …I did something really stupid to the background [of the painting of the girl in the library]. … my teacher … was really cross at me. […] I didn’t know what to do until another [teacher] came and helped. I guess that’s the most frustrating thing, not getting it “right.”
(Copyright 2016 Chriss Liu)