I have some dirty secrets as an artist and student of art history. Probably the biggest is that when it comes to personal preferences, I don't actually like a lot of "smart" art. The kind of names that (what I consider painfully pseudo-intellectual) peers who are overly conscious of theory tend to drop do nothing for me. It's not to say I can't appreciate what these artists do, and after running through Pratt's MFA program, I can play hardball with theory too, but in the end, I'm typically left cold.
This is because in all circumstances of reaction and experience, I rely on emotions and sensations, not thoughts, rationality, or anything that might make sense to other people. I don't like art because I think it's well-reasoned or elegantly demonstrates the disenfranchisement of the proletariat. I like the things that make me feel, even if that feeling is as superficial as "mmm, pretty." I rely a lot on instinct, and I make snap decisions on whether I like something or not. I think, however much they may tell themselves otherwise, most people respond this way or similarly.
My favorite artists are probably Georgia O'Keeffe and Van Gogh, followed by a handful of Impressionists and the Bellinis. I really like pictures of flowers and landscapes. Most of my favorite paintings appear somewhere on tote bags or notecubes. I have a whole long list of other artists I adore, including a lot of abstract painters and photographers, but I'm not likely to talk about any of it with someone who considers themselves an art person because I have been told, over and over, that I have pedestrian taste and that it's not "okay" to rely on my own subjective emotional responses to guide aesthetics.
I have attempted, fruitlessly, to make arguments in favor of beauty as the most subversive and transformative aesthetic principle, to explain why I actually feel that all the art dismissed as "amateurish" dalliances of over-privileged dilettantes is actually much more sincere and intellectually significant that an over-wrought and soulless concept piece. In the segments of the art world with which I've tangled, it is the equivalent of sincerely defending Coldplay (yes, I also like Coldplay). It's a losing proposition and it tends to make the more judgmental roll their eyes and dismiss me as an idiot.
So fine. Let's all agree, I am an idiot. An idiot who knows what she likes and experiences intense aesthetic highs at simple, natural beauty. And takes a lot of trite pictures of flowers and makes precious paintings. I'm finally okay with that.
Another secret of my artistic preferences is that yes, I like Romanticism. A lot. When I say it suits my sensibilities, I don't even mean this ironically. In literature and music and sometimes even painting, I like focusing on the interior life, really slobbering through emotions and sentiments and wallowing around in them.
One of the eye-rolly trends in Romanticism was the way that nature, most often manifested in weather, would correspond with the interior lives of characters or figures in a scene. It was a shorthand for emotional content, a way to externalize the inner subjectivities and experiences. In the Gothic novel that is my silly little life, I don't think it is mere coincidence that there has been an unseasonably volatile Nor'easter going on.
My sophomore year of high school, we read The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and I was particularly struck by chapter XI, called "The Interior of a Heart." I became absolutely entranced with this idea, that someone could traipse through events and follow along with a character's musings as a means to dissect the makings of the mind and soul. The chapter includes a fantastic bit on what is true and real:
To the untrue man, the whole universe is false-it is impalpable-it shrinks to nothing within his grasp. And he himself in so far as he shows himself in a false light, becomes a shadow, or, indeed, ceases to exist.
In my heart, feeling is genuine and honest, the most trustworthy and reliable thing. When I speak about love and life, I say that I have to act in good faith and follow my heart, and even if things turn out terribly or I end up alone and unhappy, I know that at least I got there by following my heart... which is kind of its own reward.
I may go through life starry-eyed and idealistic, but I don't really want to change that because it may be the only valid part of who I am. I may, in effect, have something pure within me, which responds viscerally (if stupidly) and feels great intensities of emotion that guide my beliefs and actions.
If I have nothing else, I have that.