Welcome to the Challenge

By STUDY28|Violette Stepaniuk

We’ve all heard it before, perhaps made the judgement ourselves, “A child could do it.” I admit I have. Works like Barnett Newman’s Voice of Fire, Jackson Pollock’s Number 28 or Quebec Granite Line by Richard Long are an enigma to me.

But, that’s just it. It’s easy to dismiss things we don’t like or don’t understand. For years, when looking at canvases covered with coloured stripes or paint drips, or objects scattered on gallery floors, I’ve had an inkling that I might be missing something. Eventually this gentle nudge became a demand that I do something, that I dig deeper.

As soon as I put things in motion to make STUDY28 a reality, I came across a book, skinny on pages but heavy on encouragement to do just that – to dig deeper. A joy to read, Fresh Seeing: Two Addresses by Emily Carr contains, as the title suggests, two speeches by the Canadian icon. In the first one, titled “Fresh Seeing”, Carr suggests there is much to be discovered by giving modern art, or what she calls “creative art”, some serious thought:


Maxwell L. Anderson, The Quality Instinct

“Creative Art is ‘fresh seeing’…People need not like creative art. It is not a sin if they don’t, but they lose an awful lot of joy out of life by not trying to understand it. It opens up a new world for those who seek to understand it.”

And so, it is this new world that I set out to explore on STUDY28 and, more broadly, in this blog. I may never learn to like canvases featuring nothing but stripes or paint drips, but I want to understand why others attach great value to what to me looks like something a child could do, and to give the benefit of the doubt to those who claim that, in fact, a child couldn’t do it. If there is something to understand and appreciate about such works, I want to know, or at least have a chance to buy or reject the arguments.


Photo by aneta

Strange and mysterious it is. Rather hard for a child to do. Is it art? Welcome to the challenge.

Following another piece of advice, by Tony Godfrey, the editor of my current read Understanding Art Objects: Thinking through the Eye, I challenge myself, and you, dear reader, to awaken our senses to all the strange creations that fill the walls and halls of our galleries.

“Walking through any museum or any collection with one’s senses awake and with a receptive mind tells us…that art objects can be unpredictable, intriguing, surprising,” Godfrey writes. “An encounter with an art object by an attentive viewer is an encounter with that which is strange.”

Let’s do this!


  • I share the challenge you described, and avoided abstract and conceptual art for a long time. However friends have helped me improve my seeing and I particularly found the book “What Are You Looking At?” by Will Gompertz helpful in understanding the development of this art and hence its meaning. The book is well written, not loaded with art-speak, and has photos of key pieces he references, although with the internet you can quickly find examples to add to your understanding.

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