For the discriminating palate

Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once famously said that hard-core pornography was hard to define, “but I know it when I see it.”

I kinda feel the same way about art (I feel the same way about porn, too, but I try to keep this a family paper).

I’ve served on the board of directors of the Chenango County Council of the Arts for a decade-plus, been to hundreds of different gallery openings, plays, concerts and shows, never missed a Colorscape Chenango, been to a few Pennysaver craft shows and even some high school exhibits and a handful of nationally-known museums ... but I’m still not quite sure I’d always recognize “art” -- even if I stepped in it.

Art is such a subjective concept that I’m not sure anyone can clearly define it -- that’s why I’m never quite certain whether to trust someone else’s opinion when they say it’s good or it’s bad. I like what I like, but that doesn’t mean you will.

That’s why I’m in awe of artists ... not only in how they create art themselves, but in how they can judge, critique and appreciate each other’s work. I had the opportunity to see that process at work earlier this week as I sat in on the jurying session for 2008’s Colorscape Chenango. I watched as a panel of three local artists reviewed slides of works submitted by 80 or so other artists hoping to show their works at this year’s festival. What I bet most people don’t realize is that you don’t simply “sign up” for Colorscape; as a fine arts show, your work has to be approved by said panel of judges, who go over the slides with the proverbial fine-tooth comb to see if your work is worthy of exhibition there.

I had no idea what I was looking at.

While the artists on the panel discussed the works with passion and knowledge, I looked at a bunch of pictures of ceramic bowls and necklaces. For me, I suppose, 3-D art of that nature has to be seen, touched, even fondled to be appreciated. Hence my appreciation for the keen eye of those who can understand the process behind a piece just by looking at a picture of it. By the time it was over, I felt like a hack.

Though I like to put on airs and think of myself as a cultural connoisseur from time to time, I realized after sitting in on the jurying session that my palate wasn’t quite as refined as I thought it to have been. Taking that as a challenge, two days later I got myself a sneak peek at the Artistic Discovery exhibit which opens at the Chenango County Council of the Arts gallery tonight.

I had no idea what I was looking at.

Again, a juried show ... the works students from several area high schools judged for entry by art teachers. The winners go on to compete at the state level (the contest is sponsored locally by Rep. Michael Arcuri), and the winning works there get to be exhibited in Washington (and yes, we’ve had a few from Chenango over the years).

While I could go around the room and pick out a few pieces that “spoke to me” as we like to say when we put on the aforementioned airs (and refer to ourselves as “we,” apparently), others I wasn’t so sure about. But obviously someone thought they were worthy to submit, and to show. There are some amazing works in the show I’d be proud to hang in my own collection (we like to refer to the mish-mash of pictures adorning our walls as our “collection”), there were others I simply shook my head at and said, “I don’t get it.”

And then I realized, of course, that I wasn’t wrong. That’s the really beauty of art – you don’t have to be an artist yourself, you don’t have to be book-learned or knowledgeable of terms, mediums and technique, you don’t have to have a definitive answer for why you loathe or love a particular piece. You just have to know it when you see it.

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