Memory in Art

Many people find it easy to express their emotions through art. Photographs, paintings, collages. Art allows memories to be expressed purely, without passing any sort of judgement. Someone can look at a painting or photograph and not understand it at all. Art is very difficult to understand from the viewer’s perspective, but as the creator, we know exactly what we see and what we think.

The past is inspiring. Things we have heard of, listened to, watched, can be things that stay with us for the rest of our lives. Art is physical representation of the human memory. And it is perplexing, confusing.

A couple of years ago my mother, grandmother and sister went into New York City for the day. We decided to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and MoMA (Museum of Modern Art). Now, I am someone who may not have the greatest appreciation for art. I am not necessarily ‘good’ at drawing, or inspired to go and paint something…ever. My sister is a person who loves art, who appreciates style, technique, texture, tone. She tries to understand why the artist might have done things a certain way. She is interested in  more than just looking at the art, but understanding the purpose, the memory behind the pieces. I did have a little more admiration and respect for the art in the MET, however MoMA was pretty much a joke to me. I don’t understand how a ball of string tied to a twig can be considered worthy of being in a museum, let alone a piece of artwork in the first place. Give me a few minutes. I’ll go outside, find a twig, grab a ball of string out of my mother’s sewing box. TADA! I made art.

Memory in art allows people to express what is meaningful to them. After that day in the museums, I can’t necessarily say I enjoyed it all too much. I did however, come to an understanding that there are a lot of different types of people out there. What inspires one person might not even cross the mind of another. But these inspirations come from memory. And for me, walking around and looking at those sculptures, paintings, posters, I realized how vast the human memory is. Everything and anything can spark inspiration.

Doris Salcedo, a well-known Colombian sculptor, discusses the role memory plays in the work she creates.


There are a lot of pieces in that video that I didn’t understand. Certain sculptures had no meaning for me. I wouldn’t personally call it ‘art’. But that’s just me. Salcedo’s take on art can be considered a more abstract one, more specific to her life. Other types of art can be understood by more people. For me, I can understand a collage or a painting more easily than a sculpture. The bottom line is, memory is in every piece of art, whether or not we can understand it or not.

African Memory Jug

A photograph of one artist’s “memory lane’

Venice from memory

Memory in art is expressed in infinite ways. Below is a concluding video,  about how memory and history function in art. The “Art in the Twenty-First Century” documentary “Memory” explores these questions through the work of the artists Susan Rothenberg, Mike Kelley, Hiroshi Sugimoto, and Josiah McElheny, and concludes with an original video artwork by Teresa Hubbard / Alexander Birchler. It is rather long, so the first couple minutes will suffice.

Memory in Art

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2 Comments

  1. I think you are right….but I would refine your statement “The bottom line is, memory is in every piece of art, whether or not we can understand it or not” to “Art is the recreation of memory, whether we undertsand it or not”….and the understanding or not can be on the part of the artist as well as the viewer!

    Reply
  1. Self Reflection « Words, Words, Words

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