I started writing when I was very young. I wouldn’t call what I wrote poetry. Maybe if I stumble into writing a true poem someday, I could call my early attempts sketches that I used to learn the craft. But with Rilke and Neruda and Dickinson out there, well….
Largely because of all the great poetry and literature, it took decades before I showed anything I wrote to anyone. And when I finally did, well, that was when I truly fell in love with writing and became even more fascinated with art. What I saw was nothing short of alchemy. In one instance after another, interpretations were made that were so far from what I had in mind that they left me astonished. Each interpretation caused me to reconsider what I had written and that deepened my writing.
I peer through the ever-so-small aperture of my eyes at the immensity of the universe that surrounds us, at the mystery of life. And through the crazy pathways of my mind and my unique toybox of experiences, I interpret what I see and present it to the reader. The readers then bring all their stuff to the mix and sometimes… well sometimes a little bit of gold appears. The only difference between artists (and I’m including writers here) and the rest of the world is that artists don’t worry about burning out their retinas and look a little more directly at the mystery.
Which leads to my rant.
The new Whitney Museum is a spectacular place. The galleries and the light are perfect for exhibiting art. Very few pieces are displayed, allowing for visual space needed to absorb each piece. I know that Jeff Koons is a highly regarded contemporary artist. Given that the purpose of the Whitney is to display contemporary American art, Koons’ work must be represented. But, the piece they’ve chosen to exhibit raises the eternal question, “What is art?” In the images below, which is the art—the vacuum cleaners in their hermetically sealed setting, or the extensive explanation of the display? If a work needs to be described in such detail, is it art? Or is it social commentary? Tell me what you think. [In the featured image, the painting is Frank Stella’s, Die Fahne hoch! and the man is touching the center of the painting (yes, touching it!) explaining to his friend that it’s symmetrical and saying “I could have painted that!”. Which is the same as asking, “Is that art?”, isn’t it?]
So many of my friends who are artists are frustrated by the insistence that they provide an artist’s statement with their art. Invariably they tell me, “I paint.”, “I sculpt”, “I write”. That’s it. Doesn’t our insistence on having an explanation destroy the alchemy that is art? Aren’t we depriving ourselves of the possibility that one work or another might turn lead to gold?
And just to complete the circle, as I mentioned yesterday (Omphalos 2), what if we extend this “artists’ statement” to writers and insist that a writer provide an artist’s statement with each poem or story? (And yes, isn’t that exactly what I’m doing here?) In this tightening self-referential cycle where does art go? Don’t we just end up with the “artist’s” statement and no art?
Maybe some would argue that’s where we are. That this is in fact what we have: social media. Ask an artist, “What is your medium?” Answer: Social