THE INNOCENT EYE TEST, Oil on canvas, 1981, was finished by Mark Tansey, American, born in 1949. It is an enormous canvas drawing whose measurements are 1988cm by 183cm. It is exhibited now in Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC. In this painting, we can see that Tansey used ironic means and a sense of humor to poke fun at the haughtiness of the art community and its critics. He has sketched several official looking men dressed like scientists and experts all wearing glasses, with the exception of one man holding a mop. They are recording and observing the “real” cow’s reaction to the “drawn” cow. The sociological meaning in this painting is that Tansey’s art critics do not know how to determine the aesthetic value of the artwork but rely on their spectacles and a cow’s reaction. The mop in this painting refers to the likelihood of the cow moving his bowels, as if the art critics not having any clue of the cow’s response are prepared for any unpleasant reaction. Furthermore, the “real” cow in this painting not only symbolizes simplicity but also denotes an untrained art viewer. According to an art critic, Jeannine Mercer, “No mater how grand an artist perceives his masterpiece to be, he is never sure of its success until it pass the eye test. In those first second, before an art viewer’s facial expression succumbs to complacent politeness, the piece’s true merit can be found in his or her eyes.”
After I checked Tansey’s information on the Web, it gave me a better understanding of THE INNOCENT EYE TEST. Mark Tansey was born the son of two historians in 1949. His parents are authorized in the field of art history, so he grew up tangled within academic discussions about art analysis. Due to his background knowledge, he is adept in mixing historical events and figures on his paintings to create surreal, ironic, and metaphorical imagery.
There are two reasons drawing me to choose THE INNOCENT EYE TEST. The first reason is that it is an enormous canvas drawing based on a monochromatically photocopied image. The second reason is that I saw the metaphorical meanings in the illustration beyond merely saw the literal representation. The metaphor drew me to explore the intriguing connections between figures. What does the real cow symbolize? What do the several official looking men refer to? Moreover, the men seem to wait for the real cow’s reaction, but why? All the above reasons drew me to stand before the piece and take a long look.
March 1, 2004