Whenever I get into this mind set, I force myself to recall that when the art movement now revered as Impressionism first appeared at traditional art shows in the late 1800s the art was reviled and caused riots of dissent. Popular opinion of what was art was wrong. This is a sad constant.
I had an easier time remembering the Impressionist example earlier this week as I toured the Sol LeWitt Retrospective exhibit at Mass MoCA in North Adams, Mass. If you're not familiar with LeWitt's work think of the look of a Rubik Cube as you are trying to solve the puzzle. His minimalist art is dominated by patterns of cubes in various colors. It is it's own puzzle.
I suppose what makes LeWitt's work so difficult to appreciate is that we all know how to color a square. We all cannot draw a figure, a tree or paint a landscape. Another problem is there are no emotional and intellectual keys to LeWitt's work. We have to do all the work ourselves.
Touring the exhibit is a crash course in trusting your instincts. As my friend and I went from one floor to another she commented "This is much better. The darker colors were starting to become depressing. These bright vivid colors are stimulating and exciting." We then started a conversation as how every parent instinctively knows to paint a baby's room in bright colors. We know color triggers emotion, but a painting composed only of color is viewed as emotionless. Why?
LeWitt's work is also intellectually stimulating. This is staggeringly large exhibit that takes three floors of the enormous gallery. Somewhere along the route you start to realize there are no repeated patterns. You realize the unlimited potential of pattern and design just as we comprehend the uniqueness of a snowflake or the enormity of the universe by gazing at the stars. For me, it was both humbling and exciting to know that so many things that we think of as finite have unlimited potential.
Not to be overlooked is the beauty of giant walls filled with shape and color. Walking by and around walls of vivid and muted color occasionally broken by other exhibits of swirls in black and white can be a relaxing, transporting experience.
As to the idea that it isn't art - my rule of thumb is if a piece of work transports you, it's art.
I'd normally say hurry to Mass MoCA so as not the miss the exhibit, but since the exhibit (which opened in 2008) is there for 25 years, you have until 2033. But don't delay. It is a worthy experience.