When I was 30, a minister told me, “Young people always think in black and white. When you’re older, you will have much more nuanced views.” I’ve never changed my opinion on the matter we were discussing (sin) but I have changed my mind radically about art.
Young artists tend to have very strong opinions about what they like. Often that takes the form of liking work that most represents the style to which they aspire. That never fully goes away, which is why I am (for example) more moved by the paintings of Lois Dodd than the Pre-Raphaelites.
Many years ago, my high school art teacher told me, “quit being sophomoric.” I looked at her in confusion. “I AM a sophomore,” I replied. But at my advanced age, I think I get it.
As youngsters, we love art that shouts. If it has an obvious message, and even better, obvious humor, we embrace it. As we age, that message becomes tiresome, and work that is based only on hectoring is of no interest.
This is because a subtext is being made visible to us. (Why this is lost on youngsters, I don’t know.) It is about the struggles experienced directly by the hand that made the work. Unlike art that shouts, it is completely non-verbal, yet is very clear and profound.
Paintings sometimes develop a mind of their own. The artist conceives a piece and sets off to paint it, and it veers off in a totally different direction. The more one tries to bend it to their will, the less successful it is. This is why commissions are so darn difficult.
A painting can be technically awkward and inexperienced, but still compel us. Is that a good or bad painting? I’d argue that it’s neither. There is very little objective quality in art; there are only levels of meaning.