‘A kindergartner could paint that,” my 17-year-old daughter remarks as I force her to watch a brief profile of the 20th-century abstract painter Joan Miro on the CBS SundayMorning show, which I have PVR’d.
I snatch the remote from her hand, saying, “hold it, hold it, hold it,” too many times like I do. I quickly hit pause.
Frozen on the screen is an interesting painting that depicts a large red misshapen circle on a blue background, with a black dot and squiggle to the right.
“I know what you’re saying,” I say patiently, “but give it a chance. Listen to what they are saying about the art.” My daughter is not really the rolling of the eyes type. She is more of a come straight out and laugh at my expense type. And she is having none of it.
As I struggle to enlighten her, it begins to dawn on me that when I was her age, I felt exactly the same way she does today about modern art. Now here I sit at 50, trying to explain why I think there is genius in it. I realize it’s not for everyone, but for me at least I have come to the realization that something must have shifted in my outlook over the past few decades, because the art has not changed.
I try again. “Let me give you some context. Miro, Picasso, those guys were trying to portray emotion in a whole new way. They weren’t just drawing pretty flowers. They lived through civil war in their country and saw extreme hardship. That’s what’s in the painting on TV right now.
“That enormous red blob could represent the interruption of peace, which he symbolized by the placid blue background it is taking over.”
My daughter leans forward. Am I getting through? She picks up her iPhone and begins searching the Web.
She swipes, taps, and reports back: The “horrors of war” painting I have been so smugly interpreting for her is called The Flight of the Dragonfly in Front of the Sun.
“See? Terrifying,” I say.
She looks at me blankly.
While I may have misinterpreted the meaning, I press on, explaining that what we are looking at is at the very least thought-provoking, and definitely subversive, especially when you consider when it was painted.
“He probably created this in, like, 1930 or something. Think about that. This was revolutionary stuff.”
“1968,” she informs me.
So it turns out I don’t know very much about this. Yet I feel we are at an important moment, my daughter and I. There is merit to this kind of artistic expression, even if I don’t fully get it at the level the artist may have intended.
Is this a realization that comes with age, maturity and experience, or am I just late to the game? I fear it is the latter, but maybe I can make up for this by exposing my kids to challenging art so they can make up their minds earlier than I seem to have.
Most likely it is the fact that between the time I was 17 and now, my career path led me to become a graphic designer and creative director. I have stared down the empty white page and successfully covered the mortgage payments. This doesn’t make me anything like Miro, but it has made me at least attuned to the challenges of creating fresh ideas.
Champions of creativity such as Miro and his contemporaries (and all those who came before) forge new pathways of expression that have influence beyond the beauty they initially achieve.
Clearly Miro’s free-form approach, sometimes dark, sometimes whimsical, has had immeasurable influence on graphic design before and after the turn of our new century.
I try again to connect my daughter to this style by using an example she may be able to associate with.
“Remember the old Family Channel logo they used to use when you were little? It was brightly coloured brush strokes that formed an ‘F’ and it had a bright sun in the middle. You had a sticker of it on your bike. That’s contemporary design influenced by artists like this.”
She nods, and I see a little smile.
I will take my family to the Picasso exhibit in Toronto. I will interpret the works for them, like the know-it-all dad that I am. I will embarrass myself when I again interpret it all wrong. And that will be a learning experience for us too.
In the end I am content in the realization that I have grown to appreciate something that I once did not.
The segment on TV ends.
“Okay if I change this?” she asks.
I hand her the remote.
She switches to MTV. The screen lights up with frenetic abstract shapes, bold, striking colours and beautiful visual noise.
David Brouitt lives in Richmond Hill, Ont.
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