Read the passage and answer the question.
The painter is now free to paint anything he chooses. There are scarcely any forbidden subjects, and today everybody is prepared to admit that a painting of some fruit can be as important as a painting of a hero dying. The impressionists did as much as anybody to win this previously unheard-of freedom for the artist. Yet, by the next generation, painters began to abandon the subject altogether, and began to paint abstract pictures. Today the majority of pictures painted are abstract.
Is there a connection between these two developments? has art gone abstract because the artist is embarrassed by his freedom? Is it that, because he is free to paint anything, he does not know what to paint? Apologies for abstract art often talk of it as the art of maximum freedom. But could this be the freedom of the desert island? It would take too long to answer these questions properly. I believe there is a connection. Many things have encouraged the development of abstract art. Among them has been artists’ wish to avoid the difficulties of findings subjects when all subjects are equally possible.
I raise the matter now because I want to draw attention to the fact that the painter’s choice of a subject is a far more complicated question than it would at first seem. A subject does not start with what is put in front of the easel or with something which the painter happens to remember. A subject starts with the painter deciding he would like to paint such-and-such because for some reason or other he finds it meaningful. A subject begins when the artist selects something for special mention. (What makes it special or meaningful may seem to the artist to be purely visual-its colours or its form.) When the subject has been selected, the function of the painting itself is to communicate and justify the significance of that selection.
It I often said that subject matter is unimportant. But this is only a reaction against the excessively literacy and moralistic interpretation of subject matter in the nineteenth century. In truth the subject is literally the beginning and the end of a painting. The painting begins with a selection (I will paint this and not everything else in the world); it is finished when that selection is justified (now you can see all that I saw and felt in this and how it is more than merely itself).
Thus, for a painting to succeed it is essential that the painter and his public about what is significant. The subject may have a personal meaning for the painter or individual spectator; but there must also be the possibility of their agreement on its general meeting. It is at this point that the culture of the society and period in question precedes the artist and his art. Renaissance art would have meant nothing to the Aztecs-and vice versa. If, to some extent, a few intellectuals can appreciate them both today it is because their cultures is an historical one: its inspiration if history and therefore it can include within itself, in principle if not in every particular, all known developments to date.
When a culture is secure and certain of its values, it presents its artists with subjects. The general agreement about what is significant is so well established that the significance of a particular subject accrues and becomes traditional. This is true, for instance, of reeds and water in China, of the nude body in Renaissance, of the animal in Africa. Furthermore, in such cultures the artist is unlikely to be free agent: he will be employed for the sake of particular, and the problem, as we have just described it, will not occur to him.
In the context of the passage, which of the following statements would NOT be true?
- Painters decided subjects based on what they remembered from their own lives.
- Painters of reeds and water in China faced no serious problem of choosing a subject.
- The choice of subject was a source of scandals in nineteenth century European art.
- Agreement on the general meaning of a painting is influenced by culture and historical context.