Friday, June 16, 2006

BUT IS IT ART?

"I prefer The Incredibles school of art theory: If anything can be art...then nothing is."

Unlike the usual quip, I do know what art is, and I also know what I like. Often the two do not meet, I like a lot of stuff that is not art but is enjoyable or entertaining, such as comic books. A recent news story illustrates how badly things have gotten for the art scene, however:

Paradise Sculpture

David Hensel could not help but chuckle when he went to see his sculpture on display at the Royal Academy.

At first, after wandering through the Summer Exhibition, he concluded that it was nowhere to be seen. But eventually he found it. Or rather, he didn't.

What he did find was the sculpture's empty plinth and wooden base displayed as "Exhibit 1201".

Mr Hensel had never considered the empty plinth a work of art in itself. But the exhibition selectors evidently did. So, too, did visitors, who pronounced it beautiful.

Mr Hensel gave a cutting analysis in this article about the state of the art community in the world today:

Sculpture Plinth
"That an empty plinth makes it to the exhibition is the stuff of cartoons and is also a comment about the apparent vacuous nature of some contemporary art."
The BBC also carried this story, and gave museum's side of things:
In a statement, the Academy said Mr Hensel's work, One Day Closer To Paradise, was submitted as two separate pieces.

"Given their separate submission, the two parts were judged independently.

"It is accepted that works may not be displayed in the way that the artist might have intended."
The art community has been floundering for quite a while, producing trash that is considered art, or even blank or nearly-blank canvasses as paintings. A man puts a crucifix in a jar of urine and is praised for his cutting edge statement. Robert Mappelthorpe takes pictures of a devil-like fellow with a bullwhip inserted in his rectum, and it's considered great.

What is going on with art? Why does art so often seem to fluctuate between the meaningless and the shocking?

Tribe.net blogged on this event as did Ace of Spades Headquarters, and the Brothers Judd; commenters had this to say:
But salvation could yet be in sight for One Day Closer to Paradise. The academy spokeswoman said later that the summer exhibition's coordinators had still to take "a final decision" on Hensel's scuplture.
translation: "Someone screwed up and let the plinth be judged without the face in place, the plinth got accepted by itself, and we pretty much look like fools."

oh...and there's probably just as much, if not more "art" in the whole screwup than in the face and its plinth.
-by CTP


A local museum had a special exhibit a few years ago, one gallery consisted of a 8x8 room with 24 canvases hung on the walls, each canvas was "painted" a slightly different shade of white.

The tour guide was telling our group how the artist was trying to express blahblahblahblah....

I was thinking if I can do it, it aint art. This guys laughing his ass off on the way to the bank.
-by pupster


As an artist who's been rejected from many shows, this explains a lot.
-by Ken


A friend of mine and I recently stopped at New York's MoMA (Museum of Modern Art). The top floors have some brilliant impresionist art and other "mainstream" material but as you wind your way down you see stuff like the cup and saucer covered in fur, a room with strips of black industrial felt hanging on the wall and the ubiquitous empty white canvas . Does every museum have one of those? Even the Joker from Batman created one (see below).

My friend stated the obvious, you can get anything labeled art if you are the first to do it. Everyone can cover a cup with fur but you got to have the audacity to do it first and claim that it is art in order to benefit.

BTW. Since Ace likes comics, I remember an episode of the old campy Batman series in which Cesar Romero's Joker was taking painting lessons. He seemed to spend a great deal of effort on a canvas that he later revealed to be just another empty white one. He called his art "Death of a Mole Bat". Gotta love that Joker.
-by jmchez (JohnS.)


In our town one of the local colleges sponsored a "watch the sculpture happen" project. The head of the "art" dept. would actually create the sculpture over a period of a few weeks right where it was to be displayed. After it had been finished for several weeks my nephew and I road past and I related the project to him. He looked at the sculpture and with the wisdom only a 9 yr. old could have said, "It should be nice when it's finished...what is it supposed to be?"
-by Bartman

This simple event illustrates a very sad point about museum owners, art critics, and gallery owners. The right kind of person could defecate on a plate and someone would cristen it art, not because of anything innate in the piece, but because of the shocking statement it makes and how much it upsets the squares!

Once you take away all objective standards of beauty and art, all that's left is subjective emotional impact. Instead of art, you get shocking and disgusting. Or simply the mundane and meaningless, like what so often fills art galleries across the country.

This is not a conflict between representational and nonrepresentational art, it's a conflict between those who think art is entirely subjective and relative, and those who recognize the objective standards of art and beauty and the absolute nature of those standards.

Simply put, art is that which potrays the transcendent in media. Song, sculpture, poetry, prose, paintings, it doesn't matter, what makes it art is the transcedent; it is glory peeking through the media that is used. The perfect illustration of this is from the play and movie Amadeus:

Salieri, in this vast room, is standing and looking at the full score of the Serenade. He turns the pages back to the slow movement. Instantly, we again hear its lyrical strains.

Salieri, reading the score of the Adagio in helpless fascination. The music is played against his description of it.

OLD SALIERI (voice over)
Extraordinary! On the page it looked nothing. The beginning simple, almost comic. Just a pulse - bassoons and basset horns - like a rusty squeezebox. Then suddenly - high above it - an oboe, a single note, hanging there unwavering, till a clarinet took over and sweetened it into a phrase of such delight! This was no composition by a performing monkey! This was a music I'd never heard. Filled with such longing, such unfulfillable longing, it had me trembling.

It seemed to me that I was hearing a voice of God.

Real art forces a glimpse into the other into glory that sears the memory and the soul and brings thoughts and emotions almost unrelated to the actual image or sound. Real art has an unexpressable, extra quality to it that is beyond what is presented, and without that peek beyond what we can measure and sense, it simply is not art.

This event also illustrates a more practical point for artists: when you send your work somewhere, make sure it's so obvious how to assemble the work that even a gallery owner can puzzle it out.

*UPDATE: expanded comment by CTP that got lost in formatting
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