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The Aesthetic Quotient: What's Your A.Q.?

Aug 17, 2007
Although I am sure that your own intuition and intelligence have by now suggested other concrete action you may take in order to bring your inborn "A.Q." (Aesthetic Quotient) up to its strongest potential, I should like to run through a few rudimentary steps in order to provide you some basic start.

Visiting museums is, of course, an absolute requisite. It is only by looking at paintings, drawings, sculpture, and prints that you will learn to discern the fine points about them and the differences between them. You will also have the advantage of looking at only the finest examples -- what is known as "museum quality." But, in addition to simply looking at the creative efforts of the world's foremost artists, you can take advantage of the cumulative knowledge of the museum's staff and the wide variety of its activities. Be sure to find out what lectures, courses, seminars, and films are available.

The many art magazines are another almost indispensable means of getting that "A.Q." of yours into a state where it will guide you almost infallibly when the hour arrives to pay your money and make your choice. I will consider them more completely in Chapter 10, "New Frontiers." In reading such journals as Art News and The Arts, try at first to choose articles that are of a general nature rather than highly particularized critiques of contemporary work. Art Quarterly is perhaps the best as far as erudition and depth are concerned. But if you read the books I have recommended, you will have less need for this magazine's scholarly attitude.

Sometimes there is more pleasure to be derived in seeing a fine private collection than walking through the vaulted halls of a huge museum. This is particularly true when the collection includes specific items for which you have a personal sympathy. Telephone or write eminent collectors and ask if you might come and see their collections. Don't be shy or hesitant about making such a request. Most collectors are very proud of what they have put together. They will be gratified at your appreciation; and you will discover that, as they show you their pictures and their sculpture, their prints or ceramics, they'll talk to you and tell you about each, often in a highly interesting and instructive fashion.

I often remember a trip I made through the upper part of Massachusetts back in 1950. As we drove through a very small town, we saw a group of beautiful antiques on a wide, open porch.

"Let's stop at that antique shop," my wife suggested.

"Gladly," I said. We walked up onto the graceful porch and an old lady came out of the house to greet us. I picked up a wooden weather vane and seemed so interested that the lady told me something of its history. I liked the shape and the soft, faded colors, so I asked the price.

"Oh, it isn't for sale," the lady told me.

"Well, then, I guess we'd better look at something else," I said.

At this point our "hostess" explained sweetly: "None of these things are for sale. This isn't a store."

I looked at her with surprise. "But if it isn't a store, why do you have everything piled up on the porch?"

"Because I know people like lovely things, and I'm lonesome. This way I have lots of callers!"

I have always found that visiting artists at work in their studios is another effective means of elevating the "A.Q." There is one precaution you must remember. The purpose of such visits is not to absorb pointers on the mechanical factors involved in the artist's handling of his medium. Your mission is to see how you respond to the same visual stimulus that is moving the artist as he puts on pigments or chips away marble. Look at the bowl of fruit . . . the curve of a shoulder . . . the silkiness of a cat, and measure your response -- how you interpret the object or model beyond its obvious physical dimensions and attributes. Bear that in mind and you will become an aesthete in no time!
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