Art??

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

 

10 Comments

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  1. I wouldn’t call this a rant, more of a common sense reflection on the value of letters in two dimensional space. Given that as consumers of information in the form of images, we are never going to sit around long enough to digest an essay about something that could be presented in the form we can digest easily. I thought the vacuum cleaners were jarring but without the explanation, they’re art. With the explanation, they’re simply a show and tell presentation. For me, art has to engage the reader emotionally or else it is like hand soap. Available, convenient and ultimately not that valued once it washes off.

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  2. Art is supposed to be a bit mysterious, not an essay. It’s supposed to be open, not closed.

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  3. Veni, ViIDI/vidi,,,,,ne vici

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  4. As is often the case, I must disagree or be disagreeable, however one chooses to see it. As an analytic, I love to have an artist’s statement with a piece of their work, particularly if the art is intended to be provocative or make a particular social statement. I want to know what was in the mind of the artist when they felt the urge to create and even their pertinent life situation. From a ” customer” perspective ( and I think I am a customer) this deepens the understanding of the work.

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    • This isn’t disagreeable at all, Susan. I am sincerely looking for the spectrum of experience with this subject. It’s interesting to read Ed’s response, below. Taking your two perspectives together, brings me to another subject I’m fascinated with, and that is the role of the critic. I’ve long suspected that critics play an important role in bridging the space between the artist and the audience.

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      • I think the differing perspectives of Ed and me reflect different personalities (simply who we are). The analytics and the feelers (to over generalize) tend to see and experience differently from one another. Regarding the influence of critics, I think you are correct that they can be a bridge. Of course, they also influence perspective, not necessarily with objectivity.

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  5. You bring up an all important issue concerning the presentation of art today. ( Regarding a rant, I guess this is more of a ramble) I visited The National Gallery Of Art over the weekend. My custom is unchanged over the many decades I have been haunting museums. I eschew the acoustiguide, the guide book and the floor plan and take off, perhaps starting with the early Italians. I don’t look at the labels, but study the works. ( I have noticed many do the opposite. ) If I see something miraculous I will scrawl in my notebook perhaps something like: thin glaze of alizarin crimson over terra verte underpainting etc. I speak here as a painter and not a curator or social critic. Oh! I really did ramble on, without really addressing the subject at hand !

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    • Please see my response to Susan, above. Interesting to have your two perspectives.
      And I just love thinking how specific “alizarin crimson” is. For a writer, it’s like trying to find that precise word to capture a thought.

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