"Beauty will be convulsive or will not be at all." - André Breton (1928)
I will be starting a series of artist/work profiles. My descriptions of the work are based on my own perceptions - I don't approach art in the cold, calculating way you would approach a math problem or a balance sheet. To do so would be wrongheaded.
My descriptions are my immediate reactions, I record them on a tape recorder, because I find that works for me.
My general philosophy in approaching/dissecting these works is similar to the technique used in the Horace Miner essay, 'Body Ritual Among the Nacirema.' I read this essay for the first time in tenth grade and it clicked for me pretty quickly, but I won't spoil it for those of you who want to read it and figure it out for yourselves. It's an eyeopener. It flips your beliefs about the culture upside down, in a way, but that is all I will say about that essay. Read it for yourself if you wish. Here is a link: http://oak.cats.ohiou.edu/~thompsoc/Body.html
In terms of visual analysis, there is a difference between looking stroke by stroke at a canvas in order to find something past it, and glaring with clenched teeth at a canvas and superficially dismissing it as something lacking in "skill" because it looks so simple or maybe even uninspired, prima facie.
To put it simply, things don't have to look like what they look like. How do you represent an idea, an abstraction? How do you capture an emotion? You can't put it into words, or can you? Words can be art. The emotion/image does not have to be concrete. There are no rules and art doesn't have to be "pretty" in the pseudo-universal obvious sense. I think art should incite, it should be evocative. If it is purely a "treat for the eye" - it's craftsmanship, not art. I've always upheld the idea more than the technique or the style.
Duchamp was said to have stated that art could be anything, so long as an artist said it was art. As of now, I'm not sure I can fully embrace this definition, but it's not too far off base. The artist only has to stay true to his or herself. The responsibility for the artist lies not in the perception of the audience, but in the handling of the idea. The failure or success of the final piece in the eyes of an outside party is mainly subjective. It would be wrong to initially approach something with the idea that it ought be best to "play it cool" because children might be present in the gallery.
No, art doesn't have to make sense. You can make your own sense of it, just like the world. You won't find your "definition" of art in any holy book or stone tablet. But you don't have to find a sense, you can always find it senseless.
When do we ever get the full picture, the full explanation of something? If you wouldn't strap your lover to a chair and force a life's worth of confessions and explanations out of him or her, why would you do that to a piece of art?
No amount of water torture on a painting or installation or performance or sculpture will give you the meaning you want. So make your own and stop whining that it's rubbish and you could do better just because it doesn't provide you with answers and it might even offend your intelligence. Just look and reflect. If you hate it, that is fine too, feel free to tell me how much you disagree.