The ‘I Don’t Get It’ Moment
By guest blogger, Yashka Moore
When in the presence of art, the pronouncement “I DON’T GET IT!” is usually on the lips of, if not ourselves, somebody nearby. If the piece doesn’t serve the ‘purpose’ of being beautiful, this reaction is especially likely. The moment of ‘not getting it’ is often considered disparagingly, and so, too, the art, becomes marred with the brush of incomprehensibility. However, the ‘I don’t get it moment’, is actually an extremely powerful and valuable experience.
How so? Let me explain. If I write to you about a table, it is merely one example of the many tables in the world which fall under the category ‘table’. This hat, just one example of a hat within the whole class of hats. A pair of jeans, one instance of the more general idea, ‘jeans’.
More often than not we meet with an object which fits within our ‘library’ of concepts. We see something on someone’s head and say “ah, that must be a hat”. Our concepts of physical objects, like the idea ‘hat’, rarely change, nor do the objects themselves. We are mostly comforted in believing that hats go on heads and that a table has four legs. Objects generally behave in the ways we expect of them, and our expectations persist unchanged. We are barely even aware of our expectations for they are so routinely confirmed that they are invisible to our introspection.
When an object is changed, in appearance or function, so that it is incapable of fitting into our everyday concept for such an object, there arises a disjunction between object and our expectation of the object.
If, for example, an object at first glance appears to be a very large dog-shaped balloon, but reveals itself upon closer inspection to be, not a Dauchshund hewn of rubber balloons, but in fact a stainless steel Jeff Koons Balloon Dog. One must expand one’s mind to accommodate the theory of a steel balloon-dog to realize the object in front of one is not, as previously considered, a latex favour of the same kind that clowns blow up and twist as party tricks.
In the same way, if you step into a room and see a large photograph hanging of a giant freckled face, and then, with nose tip touching canvas, you realise it is a painting, you again must question your first impression. What a relevatory moment this is!
Yet such disjunction rarely happens. It is within a world of object stability that we surround ourselves. Our concepts of tables and jeans and dog-balloons are formed early on and match with our language and use in daily life. Where this schism between our expectation of an object and the object itself does occasionally occur, as seen with Balloon Dog, is within art. Questioning the relationship between an object and its concept, an artist may re-imagine a table without legs, a room without walls, or paint used only as sculpture.
There is a certain pleasure when, within the confines of an art gallery, we meet an object which doesn’t match our expectations, like in photorealism, or with a balloon-dog. This kind of event also might occur when somebody puts a lampshade on their head. When this happens, we are forced to reshape our conceptual framework and create our own new concept, perhaps a composite concept like lamp-shade-hat, or a brand new entity. We might give the object a new name, like ‘Spork’.
But before all this happens, before a new concept is created or old ones re-amalgamated, our grasp of reality is proven to not be as fixed as we usually believe it to be.
When we meet an object which cannot easily be categorised we become uncertain. External reality is, in this moment, shown to be different to our internal rules. Our grasp of the ‘external world’ is put in doubt and we are forced to reevaluate our approach to this external world. This healthy self- doubt allows us to see beyond our own impressions and creates the possibility for reimaging a new world, full of reformulated concepts.
When we exit from the gallery’s glass doors, and return back to the world’s standard relationships, we have experienced the “I don’t get it” twinge, and in that moment have been forced to conceive of a way we just might get it, once prompted to realise that we have the freedom to, and must in fact, generate our own fresh concepts.