I was giving a tour at the Winnipeg Art Gallery to a group of young people who have faced some difficult challenges in the past and are part of a program that is trying to help them set their lives on a positive course. In our Skylight area we had an exhibition of wall hangings by skilled artists from Baker Lake in Nunavut. As we entered the exhibit area I gave each young person two different colored cards. I asked them to place one color under a wall hanging they really liked and another under their least favorite in the exhibit. As we walked around looking at their choices I told them a little bit about the artists.
One young man had indicated his least favorite wall hanging was one of flowers done by Marion Tuupluq. It was too simplistic for him.
I showed him two of Marion’s other pieces and then told him a little bit about her life. Her mother died giving birth to her, her father committed suicide when she was ten, her first husband died as a young man and she lost twelve of her sixteen children to accidents and starvation and other illnesses. I told him Marion had only started becoming an artist at age 57 and managed to gain a name for herself in the art world.
The young man who had picked her wall hanging as his least favorite said, ” That changes everything! I feel terrible about choosing her as my least favorite. Now that I know about her life I admire her and I think what she has done is amazing.” The young man who had shared some sad things about his own life with me felt a sense of kinship with Marion and it changed his impression of her art.
This is not the first time that has happened on tours I have given. I remember a group of grade twelve students who said they had thought Picasso was great when we began our tour of an exhibit of his work. But when they found out about his extra-martial sexual relationship with a teenage girl and saw the way women were portrayed as submissive objects in some of his rather violent sketches they changed their minds and told me their appreciation for Picasso had been diminshed as they learned about his life.
Can you separate your appreciation for art or music or literature from your knowledge of the creator’s life?