Appreciating art

I took a required class in college that included some art history and art appreciation (along with what should be a Christian view of the arts). But it was so brief that I didn’t feel I gained anything much in my ability to appreciate art.

When I have visited art museums (something I did a lot when I was a student in Spain, but not much since then), I have always found some works of art that I really liked, but couldn’t really say why. And I’ve usually seen a lot that left me indifferent (including some that I probably should appreciate but didn’t).

I’m sure I could find some books (or, these days, websites) to educate me further on appreciating art. But I’ve generally been content with being able to like what I like, even if I don’t really know why. And at one of the websites I found through a link at GOOD, I found lots of art that I like.

Even aside from the beauty of the drawings that make up this alphabet, what makes it even more interesting is to find out that they represent words in a poem (“May” by Karel Hynek Mácha). Once the artist had created the alphabet, he was able to write out the poem using the letters he had created, so that the poem illustrates itself.

There are a series of ink and watercolor birds, sculptures created from interwoven patterns, and “astonishingly anatomically correct representations of sea life, birds, amphibians, and insects” made from discarded parts from bikes and motor vehicles.

This calendar has less immediate visual appeal, but one aspect of its design is so compelling that I have to include it. The calendar is knit, and you progress through the year not from top to bottom as with most calendars, but from bottom to top. As each day passes, you unravel another row of stitches. A pile of unraveled yarn below the gradually shortening calendar represents the passing of time.

I have always found typefaces particularly intriguing. In elementary school, when I was bored (which was often), I sometimes entertained myself by drawing Old English letters on the back of whatever worksheet the class was working on. I enjoyed projects in art class where we fashioned the letters of our name into a shape (somewhere I think I still have my name drawn as a five-pointed star), or tried to create new typefaces.

This train typeface doesn’t have the same poetical significance as the alphabet linked to above, but I like the idea of trains and tracks spelling out letters. Generally train tracks carry people and goods, but these are made to carry meanings. (One interesting note is that, unlike many fonts, where the curved letters are the more difficult, here it is the letters that normally are made with straight lines and sharp angles that have to be adapted to fit the constraints of the materials.)

Another unusual typeface is created by embroidery. Lots of cross-stitch projects include lettering, but usually the X’s are unimaginatively placed in straight rows to fill in a given area. Here, the colors of the threads are those used by printers to create a wide spectrum of colors, with the “dots” (actually X’s) of color placed to achieve an overall impression of the desired shade.

How about a bookcase that spells out words? And if I still had young children, I’d want a copy of Alphabeasties.

In some cases, I am impressed primarily by the use of unusual materials. These sculptures are impressive for their looks alone (though not exactly something I’d want to display in my living room). But when you realize that they are made of scraps of tires, their realistic shapes are all that much more noteworthy.

Lots of people make portraits using pencil. But have you seen any before made from pencil shavings? Or crayons used for sculpture instead of drawings?

This rabbit is beautiful. But it’s rather strange to realize that, under all the glass beads, is a real stuffed rabbit.

These enormous cows are made from parts of cars. Not the same kind of beauty as much of the other art, but some of them have a certain grace, perhaps because the artist actually takes care of cows as well as using them for inspiration for her art.

These paintings use paint, which is quite conventional. But the paint is applied without brushes (or fingers, sticks, or other brushlike implements). The colors are incredibly vivid, and the “drip” method lends itself very well to creating an impression of moving water.

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