anyone who's ever had a discussion about art -- and i presume that is everybody -- will have come across the debate over whether art is best enjoyed intuitively or educated. it is an ongoing debate scientifically and socially like so many others where the dilemma appears real, in the sense of being genuine, i.e. both sides have relevant arguments for their view.
the "intuitionists" claim that an uneducated experience is more authentic because knowledge distorts one's natural reaction to art. the "educationists" consider knowledge an asset which adds to the experience and provides tools for understanding. it could be said that the debate is between feeling and understanding art.
needless to say, both intuitive and educated are fluctuating and debatable terms: there is probably no pure tabula rasa art experience nor does any amount of knowledge about art explain every individual work thoroughly. depending on cultural background and personal history so-called subjective experiences can be extremely laden with academic or other cognitive detail, albeit often unrelated kind, and sometimes an educated opinion is extremely narrow-minded and limited.
keeping all this variation in mind, the question of intuition versus education still remains plausible, but appears most meaningful as a question of subjective preference. personally i hover somewhere in between. i have found relying on emotion sufficient for many forms of art, such as sculpture and many contemporary artists. knowing techniques and historical references have brought very little to my enjoyment or dislike of certain pieces of art.
nevertheless, i did study art history for a while (and had the tendency to fall asleep during slide shows of which there were many...) and have been interested in many artists' personal and career history in ways that prevent an intuitive response -- if 'intuitive' means "without pre-knowledge". luckily i was a mediocre art student with narcoleptic tendencies and not much of the information stuck. in this case my poor memory also helps. thus, my contact with different art forms is more often than not uncontaminated by related knowledge.
on the other hand, i also enjoy informative tours and well-constructed exhibitions tremendously. the best ever experience i had in prado, madrid, where our guide took us around the expansive museum and showed us only seven artworks. her analyses of them taught me more about art history than any of the lectures i had taken. most importantly, i learned a skill or two about looking at paintings.
in london we visited the national gallery where they had a small showing of picasso. my scholarship on picasso is limited to the horrible movie starring anthony hopkins and the images of his artwork on pages after pages of (history) books. yes, i know he invented cubism. i was also impressed by guernica at reina sofia, but most of his more famous works i don't especially like. the man himself is an icon, but not many people -- myself included -- actually really know his art, it seems.
the collection was gathered around the theme of referencing picasso to art history, namely masterworks of art. the thesis was to show picasso as a follower and admirer of tradition rather than a rebel challenging and denying the past; someone who desired a position in the lineage of great artists producing masterpieces. through different thematic selections and comparisons the argument was defended with clarity. i cannot assess the superficiality of the claim because i lack the prerequisite premises, but it seemed convincing enough for me. more importantly, i enjoyed the learning experience.
as much as i believe in remaining "pure" when it comes to art, i also think understanding can be tremendously rewarding. it may be that an increase in knowledge prevents emotive responses. for example, i have certainly noted lately that my background in natural science makes me incapable of taking part in dystopian speculations of genetic engineering and such -- even when i realize that they are serving the purpose of social chit chat.
as a recovering academic i do listen differently to argumentation and catch haphazard generalizations and logical gaps more keenly than many of my fellow citizens. this applies to every subject matter whether i am familiar with it or not, and at the picasso showing i caught a few strange interpretations thrown in the air. nevertheless, i embrace the increase in information i got and actually enjoy picasso's artwork more than before.
the exhibition was excellent and i wholeheartedly recommend it if you're around london before june 7th. experiencing art personally always surpasses discussing it...