Thursday, November 12, 2009
Let's get real
Being an art major is really fun. I mean, you get to exercise as much creativity as you could possibly want. For example, for every project critique you get the opportunity to make up a fantastic statement of why you made your project, the deep meaning behind it, and the layers of difficult questions it arouses. I usually come up with my statement about five minutes before my presentation. Or I nod my head with that "oh yes, you really understand my artistic motivations" expression on my face when my teacher comments on the "historical references," "stimulating complexity," and "careful attention to detail" in my art.
So why all that? Can't I just say it is beautiful? HA! scoffs the art connoisseur. Beauty, what is beauty anyways? Well, contemporary art friend, I would like to point out to you that the question of "What is beauty" has been asked a thousand times in the last century, along with "What is art?" and all the other "difficult" questions of our time. These days art is only made to question modern standards and social norms. Shock value gives you extra brownie points in your exhibition. For instance, in one of my art classes I created a sculpture out of a book. I built a scene from Wuthering Heights out of...the book, Wuthering Heights. Why? Because I thought it would look cool. And I like the book. That's all. But with that reasoning I would get a B tops, so I decided to throw in the automatic A clincher: a piece of raw meat. In my scene, Heathcliff (Lover A) is digging up his dead romantic interest, Catherine (Lover B), so I decided to make Catherine out of the usual paper, and pieces of raw steak.
"Wow!" my art teacher gushes, the disturbing qualities of having a piece of raw flesh incorporated in a simple sculpture have suddenly catapulted my project into the "invocative and therefore amazing" category of art.
When I got back home, I threw out the piece of meat and put the sculpture out on our coffeetable as a nice household decoration.
I'm a little irritated by the direction of art these days. I appreciate clever artists who play with humor and irony because that always makes for a more interesting show, but those serious art critics who delve into how art evokes the "essence" of art, or beauty, or politics, or humanity, or whatever the heck the "essence" is evoking, are missing out on a big chunk of what has always been a huge part of art: aesthetics. If it is aesthetically pleasing with no underlying purpose or no other questions raised, is it no longer art? Tell that to the ancient Greeks! Tell Michelangelo that David is a one-dimensional hobbyist's creation. The REASON that questioning art, society, and pushing boundaries with art WAS successful is because it was new! it was different! it was rebellious! If you REALLY want to be a rebellious artist in this day and age, go home and paint a Mona Lisa. Spend years on a portrait that serves no other purpose than to be beautiful, and you will finally return to breaking boundaries with your art.