The ‘Singular Universality’ of Art

by kangcuzzi

With all thanks to the serendipitous aligning of the stars, yesterday I got the chance to visit Hong Kong’s annual Art Basel exhibition. I wouldn’t be so flattering as to call myself a visual artist, but I definitely agree with Renée from The Elegance of the Hedgehog when she claims the beauty of art lies within its ‘singular universality’: although each and every art piece is independent in and of itself, the sensation one experiences when gazing upon a particularly moving work is a universal thread that can apply to many other works of wonder. Keeping this in mind, I trotted into Art Basel with the intention of being possessed, almost, by something greater than the tedium of day to day life.

Being a major hispanophile, I was immediately attracted to a gallery containing the works of Catalan artist Joan Miró. Even before I realized he was the mastermind behind the works, I had a hunch that they were Spanish – the long streaks, varied textures and mediums, the geometry, the whimsical, almost child-like strokes were features I had seen in the works of other Spanish artists, even in the sketches of poet Federico García Lorca.

In this particular exhibition, I found two of Miró’s works particularly captivating.

I’ll be honest: at first glance, I didn’t really see much. As I stood there trying to make sense of what Miró had created, I couldn’t move beyond what seemed like ‘scribbles’ and various dabblings in inks and pencils and chalk. But the more I looked at it, the more I realized that my inability to ‘understand’ Miró’s intention was, in fact, testimony to the prowess of an artist.

Every stroke, however random it seemed, must have been purposeful. I imagined it must have been a long, careful – perhaps even excruciating – process, trying to figure out what line, what circle, what movement would fit perfectly where. And when does an artist know he or she has finished a masterpiece? If what I see is a series of randomness, what did they see? I tried to imagine Miró stepping back and exclaiming that the work was complete. But what about the piece insinuated its completion? It is as if there is a symbiotic thread running between the artist and his work; as if the artwork, too, can speak and share in the same emotional process. That must be what makes art art: the spectacular ability to create an extension of yourself that will celebrate your joys, share your scars. It is much like writing, I suppose, but perhaps less obvious when visualized.

I’m no art aficionado, nor will I ever understand even a fraction of technical art vocabulary. Frankly, I don’t really intend to, either. But I think having been able to stand for a few minutes admiring a piece of art – the true intentions behind which I’ll never know – is what lies in the ‘universality’ spectrum that defines our construct of art. Realizing that there is more to the piece than a series of strokes and streaks.

I’ve been having a rough couple of weeks recently, in which I felt as if I was losing touch with what should matter in this world: its literature, its art, its unspoken beauties. But I feel as if my visit to Art Basel has more than replenished my heart, and whilst I am in this euphoria I, too, will strive to create something beautiful.

‘…I have finally concluded, maybe that’s what life is about: there’s a lot of despair, but also the odd moment of beauty, where time is no longer the same.’ – Paloma in The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

One of Miró's works which particularly fascinated me.

One of Miró’s works which particularly fascinated me.