Impact of the contemplation of works of art

A guided tour of Alberto Casari’s exhibition: ´´Making a contemporary exhibition with old paintings´´.
Gallery Lucia de la Puente. Barranco, Saturday September 24, 2016.

Since the beginning of humanity, people’s ability to create fiction with language has not only given them the possibility of imagining things, but of doing them collectively. They are the myths, beliefs and symbols that bring together the community and give power to those who represent it. Strength is definitely in the one who best transmits an illusion and maintains it. Imagination is power.

But beyond imagination being a virtue of those who develop it as a tool of domination, also the competence of ingenuity to recreate experiences in a new way is, in addition – and, above all – the ability to dream and therefore a franchise for the common benefit.

Can works of art transmit feelings, ideas, illusions and generate a change in people’s attitude? What impact can images have on people who, due to their socioeconomic circumstances, have not had any contact with Art? These questions bring up fundamental issues of the ontology of Art, as well as its epistemology and function within our society. The subject has really very vast scope. That is why, in the first instance, I have chosen to reduce the analysis approach to a group of ladies from Pamplona Alta, a marginal neighborhood on the outskirts of Lima, to first observe microscopically the experience of Art contact with them.

To situate ourselves in the context, I will briefly expand on the development of Contemporary Art in our environment. It is necessary to establish what I am going to expose them to…

Contemporary Peruvian Art has traveled a very particular path and cannot simply be explained as an extension of the most widely studied, scrutinized, discussed and criticized discourse such as that of artistic development in the United States and Europe, for example. What happened abroad certainly had an influence on Peruvian artistic work, but here we cannot skip stages throughout the history of Art and land in the local Contemporaneity without taking into account the sociopolitical upheaval of the country in the second half of the century. XX. It is precisely those turbulent years where the conceptual and aesthetic ingredients of a new artistic generation come from. It is crucial to analyze the political, social and economic context in which the artists were imbued, in addition to relating the language of imported styles (Op and Pop, Minimal and Conceptual Art, etc.) that they used together with purely local materials or symbols to express their ideas and carry out their works. In short, I quote Bunitx, who describes the cradle of artistic creation at the time as follows: ´´this violent syncretism ends up being assumed by artists as an operative model for the incorporation of cosmopolitan discursive strategies based on referents and needs. local. Strategies that in Peru go from deconstruction to re-construction, from appropriation to inappropriateness. Recovering along the way mythological structures that are recomposed from the heterogeneity of their scattered fragments, integrating them into new universes of meaning. DIY´´.

It is in this environment that the work of Alberto Casari can be found, whose exhibition is the one I have chosen to take to Berta, Juana, Nora and Celestina. The 4 are cooks at the Comedor Popular ´´La Última Cena´´, in the ´´Fronteras Unidas´´ neighborhood of Pamplona Alta. They prepare a plate of hot food a day for people even poorer than themselves. There is no gain. What they charge only covers their expenses. It’s his way of helping.

Some time ago I have been taking a weekly work of Art to your dining room that I hang there to also observe the effect that Art can have among your guests. The results so far are very gratifying. They tell me that not only people who come to eat, but everyone who passes by their premises, stops to look at the work and it generates a topic of conversation. Everyone has different opinions, and in this evolution of ideas and arguments, an experience is born that is undoubtedly positive. People discover motivations to ´´do´ things, they tell me.

Starting from this first contact with Art, the idea arose of taking these ladies to see an exhibition in a formal Gallery in Lima and observe the impact. I came across Alberto Casari’s exhibition at the Lucía de la Puente Gallery in Barranco, which I thought could work as a starting point. This Gallery has an atmosphere that I particularly like a lot. The central exhibition environment is very spacious and has a very nice light. In the middle of the room there is a bench that invites you to sit down and calmly contemplate the exhibited works. In addition, the architecture of the Barranquina house adapted for the Gallery is very welcoming and makes the whole experience pleasant.

Casari’s work, moreover, in this particular case, was a good reference, because he had paintings from the 1970s to the 1990s – precisely the time of crisis and change where the genesis of the development of Contemporary Art in Peru took place. They were also the years when such violence began that its terror expelled families like those of Berta, Juana, Nora and Celestina, scattered and broken, from their lands to the extremely poor outskirts of Lima.

So, what was the reaction of my guests once Alberto Casari was exhibited in the Lucía de la Puente Gallery?

It was very moving to see the expression on their faces as they entered the Gallery as if they were entering a fairy tale. The colors of the paintings immediately caught their attention. They went a little long from the curatorial explanation to the admission. The magnet was the works, the colors and the light of the central environment, also the amplitude of the space, the almost sacred peace that was felt inside. They stopped in front of each and every one of the paintings carefully observing the drawing, the unknown forms, the plans, the perspectives, the material and the color. When I asked if they could choose a work to take home, they all had different opinions with the most eloquent arguments. But what they had in common was the preference for ´´the idea´´ and the memories that the chosen painting evoked in them.

The visit lasted a good 40 minutes of observation and conversation about the present and the past, about joys and sorrows and the well-being that this visit ´´curiously´´ made them feel. Afterwards we went for a walk along Avenida Saenz Peña in front of the Gallery towards the sea. The finishing touch was looking at the horizon along the coastline and continuing to dream of Casari’s colors and themes, so full of humor and nostalgia at the same time. The experience was a total success that I will repeat monthly, beyond continuing to take pictures to ´´the Last Supper´´ every week.

I ask myself again, what is the reason for being of Art today – what is its function? It is only about following the recipe of how to make Contemporary Art according to what critics and/or curators dictate to satisfy a public hungry for ´´Art´´ for ego or other reasons that arise in a society ruled by spectacularity in the way that Guy Debord anticipates and describes it? Or does Art also have an inherited – historical – responsibility to find a way to generate a further meaning in artistic expressions that works within and for society?

Walter Benjamin, in his text on the technical reproducibility of Art, rescues how in antiquity symbolic images or objects contained a force in their mysticism, in their magic, and how today that force is no longer valid. The pieces are copied, reproduced and lose their aura out of context. And it is up to us to find a meaning to the images again, beyond letting them be ´´Art x Art´´ with a purely spectacle meaning. We must fill them with content.

Could it be that this content could be to give women like the cooks of Pamplona Alta the possibility of dreaming? Make them get out of their routine and their very poor reality and allow them to live at least in their minds experiences of pleasure, of enjoyment, of love? Invite them to use their imagination to find new horizons?

What one sees or reads and imagines affects our senses and predisposes our mood. This phenomenon could be designated by the name of the law of the emotional representation of reality, according to the psychologist Ribot whom Lev Vigotsky cites and describes as follows: ´´All forms of creative representation contain affective elements. This means that everything that builds the fantasy reciprocally influences our feelings, and although that structure does not match reality, all the feelings that it provokes are real, authentically lived by the man who experiences them.

The sufferings and longings of imaginary characters, their sorrows and joys, move us contagiously despite the fact that we know very well that they are not real events, but the lucubrations of fantasy. And this is because the emotions that are transmitted to us from the pages of a book or from the theatrical scene through artistic images, daughters of fantasy, those emotions are completely real and we suffer them truly, seriously and deeply. ´´This impact can be positive or negative, but it IS, without a doubt, an experience that generates an effect on the viewer.

The contemplation of Art is an experience just like reading a book or appreciating a play: it generates an impression and leaves a mark on people starting from the sensory impact and passing through the filter of our memory. Artistic expression must be considered a public good for the enjoyment and enrichment of the soul. It is important to feed the body, but also the spirit, and Art: the forms, images, sensations, thoughts and other ´´bits of history´´ that it contains – and that it reflects (us) – are deeply enriching for our imagination and consequently for our being.

´´Before an image we humbly have to recognize the following: that it will probably outlive us, that before it we are the fragile element, the passing element, and that before us it is the element of the future, the element of duration. The image often has more of a memory and more of a future than the being that looks at it.


  1. Harari, Y. (2015). Sapiens: A brief History of Humankind. USA: HarperCollins
  2. Buntix, G. (1995). The Power and the Illusion: Aura, Lost and Restored in the ‘Peruvian Weimar Republic’ (1980-1992).
  3. Benjamin, W. (1989). La obra de Arte en la época de su reproductibilidad técnica.
  4. Smith, T. (2012). Qué es el Arte Contemporáneo. Buenos Aires: Siglo Veintiuno…/SmithQueEsElArteContemporaneo.pdf5.
  5. Vigotsky, L. (1986) La imaginación y el arte en la infancia. Madrid: Akal
  6. Didi-Huberman, G. (2011) Ante el tiempo. Buenos Aires: Adriana Hidalgo Editora