A couple weeks ago I was in Chicago with a couple of friends. We went to the Art Institute and were quite impressed with the wondrous works that we saw. From Van Gogh to Toulouse-Lautrec, the pieces seemed to emote history and power. Standing in the presence of Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, Seurat’s masterpiece, I was overwhelmed by the enormity. And yet made up of tiny dots. To be close to canvas was to understand the amazing skill and control that was necessary to create such a marvelous work. The idea behind the work manifest in colors, technique, and the brilliance that separates an average artist from a truly iconic one.
As I walked from one room in the institute to another, I continued to stand in the presence of truly authentic pieces that resonated happiness, sadness, desire, and beauty. As my patience began to dwindle, we walked into the modern art section of the art institute and I was struck by __________. Absolutely nothing. Now, you can ridicule my understanding of the art world, and I will gladly accept the criticism. But, as an art nonner, I was still able to appreciate the intricacies and lovely brushstrokes that went into other pieces. In the modern art area, I could only question what separated a brilliant piece from the trash heap. The answer, of course, is subjectivity.
To hide my ignorance as much as possible, I will ignore the pieces featuring multiple lines and come areas that happened to be colored in. I guess it’s not as haphazard as it seems. Nor is it made in Microsoft Paint. The work that caused me to truly detest this… art… was a piece titled Erection. I couldn’t see it initially but heard the woman in front of me whisper, “maybe they put a piece of paper over it…”. When my turn finally came, I witnessed the absolute nothing that was Erection. I can describe it nearly perfectly: 18 inches x 14 inches or so… fringe still on the page… attached at the top… appeared to have been ripped out of a book with metal spiral rings. Nothing else was there. It was in a frame… but I don’t think that the artist had provided that.
As Robert and I ridiculed the painting, Lyndon attempted to explain that it is the ‘idea’ that is essential and not the work. In response to the question of whether or not I could have done the same thing and gotten my piece into the art institute, Lyndon responded that I possibly could.. but did not think of the work. Well, ignoring the fact that not thinking of anything is something that I have done quite a lot of, I can’t argue that I would ever think to submit.. nothing.. to a prestigious institute.
However, this defense of the piece from Lyndon drew an interesting response from Robert. He cited the Emperor’s New Clothes – and what I believe is a completely valid criticism of art, music, fashion, and other circles where correct answers can never be persued. As in the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes, when somebody with power asserts that something is great or valid, no matter how ridiculous, it is taken as such. These feelings trickle down to the public until everybody is essentially lieing to themselves and the community claiming to see something that is not there. By placing this piece, Erection, on display, some higher, probably artistically brilliant, ‘pioneer’ is claiming the work is great. And every person that walks past it and considers it momentarily and lets it go is a) passively agreeing to it as an artistically valid piece and/or b) deceiving themselves to find something worthwhile in nothing. We are lucky to live in an internet world where any of us can critique and criticize behind a veil of anonymity; and I will agree that these art fields receive a large amount of harsh words because the nature of art is public. We are raised to examine and select what we like in all of the arts- but we are driven by these higher powers selecting and displaying what they consider to be worthwhile. It is time that we attain a more personal attachment with art. Myspace gave us access to bands in a whole new way- anybody could search and listen to hundreds of thousands of bands to determine their tastes. Rather than merely relying on large institutes, perhaps art can be revolutionalized in a similar fashion. Although I am not sure if there is sufficient interest in this.