06/30/2015 08:12 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Art That: A) Amuses, B) Challenges, C) Leaves Us in Disbelief

There's a huge difference between looking at art, and actually seeing it. When I make this statement during the lectures and seminars, people usually ask, "What the hell is the difference?" So let me tell you my friends: there is a huge difference. In the museums, and in the galleries, most of us are just glancing at the artwork, spending a few seconds in front of it, and then proceeding to the next. But more often than not, this first impression does not allow the very essence of the artwork to be revealed and understood.


Two current gallery exhibitions -- of two very different artists -- present an excellent case to illustrate my point. Brazilian-born, LA-based, multi-media artist Clarissa Tossin, in her exhibition at Samuel Freeman Gallery focuses on amusing, and often amazing similarities between two small towns established by Ford Motor Company in the 1930s -- one in Michigan, and another in Brazil. The various artwork in her exhibition refer to these improbable parallels and similarities. However, the works that appear at first glance to be the most straightforward and innocent-looking turn out to be tongue-in-cheek artistic statements, particularly rich in context.


I'm talking about a series of medium-sized color photographs depicting what looks like modest, American, suburban homes, fresh off the assembly line. But upon second glance, there is something strange happening. We notice a hand in the foreground holding a photo of a house in front of an actual house, thus creating the illusion that we are looking at one seamless image. But actually, in each of Clarissa Tossin's photographs, we are seeing two images of two almost-identical houses built by Ford Motor Company thousands of miles apart. And the more you stare at her photos, the further she pulls the rug from under your feet.


When you venture into the ROSEGALLERY exhibition of San Francisco-based artist John Chiara, you might be slightly confused by the first impression of his large, color photographs. The subject of most of his images are ghostly landscapes shot in Mississippi, all of them blurred and looking slightly damaged during the developing process. And for some mysterious reason, each image is not printed in standard, rectangular format, but on unevenly-torn photo paper.


John Chiara uses custom-built cameras loaded on his flat bed truck. His largest camera measures 7'x10'x12'. Yes, feet, not inches. Such a camera accommodates large sheets of paper that are 50"x 80". Obviously the artist is not intent on giving us a picture-perfect impression of the landscape that for some reason stopped him in his tracks. With all of these "imperfections," his images convey the smell of the earth, the humidity of the air, or could it be the affect of one shot of vodka too many? Who knows? But the result is totally poetic and captivating.


And let me finish today's Art Talk with the "you-ought-to-be-kidding" improbable story of the escaped killer, Richard W. Matt, who turned out to be an amateur portrait artist. While in prison, he attended art classes that enabled him to make decent painterly renditions of photos of celebrities, politicians, and prison family members. Some of his portraits were even sold to customers outside of prison for up to $2,000. Do I hear you gasping with disbelief?


I strongly recommend that you check out two articles (1 and 2) in The New York Times, with fascinating details about various art programs in prisons. And check out the video on our website of John Mulligan who served time with Mr. Matt, and now lives in an apartment surrounded by portraits painted by this killer artist.

To learn about Edward's Fine Art of Art Collecting Classes, please visit his website. You can also read The New York Times article about his classes here, or an Artillery Magazine article about Edward and his classes here.


Edward Goldman is an art critic and the host of Art Talk, a program on art and culture for NPR affiliate KCRW 89.9 FM. To listen to the complete show and hear Edward's charming Russian accent, click here.