Thursday, April 24, 2014

3845 I Don't Understand "Art"

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A few years ago a friend and I visited the art museum at Vassar College.  A lot of it was impressive.  Some was not, like the 10' x 10' sheet of what I can only describe as graph paper.  White with black vertical and horizontal lines making squares maybe 5" x 5".  Just plain old graph paper, made big.

Art?  I don't get it.

A few years ago a friend and I visited the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (Mass MoCA).  There was a room with a bunch of large white squares of paper.  Apparently identical white squares.  Each square had a placard next to it explaining it.  I don't remember the exact descriptions, but it was something like this: The first had been exposed to sunlight for several hours.  The second had been kept in the dark for several hours.  The third had been snowed on.  Another had been exposed to a cloudy sky. One had been exposed to loud rock music, while another has been exposed to classical music.  And so on.  As if that wasn't already ridiculous enough, there were people in the room walking from piece to piece examining them carefully, stoking their VanDykes, and commenting to each other on ... something.  I don't know what they found so fascinating (yeah, the idea for the exhibit was amusing, but that doesn't need examining each canvas) and I didn't have a chance to find out what they were saying because I was giggling too loud.  I got dirty looks from the cognoscenti.

Art?  I don't get it.

I don't understand a lot of the stuff that is called art.  That guy who blocked off the canvas with black horizontal and vertical lines and then painted some of the rectangles with primary colors - Piet Mondrian.  Apparently a lot of people think/thought he's just wonderful.  Mind-blowing.
You can natter on all you want about "movement", and "weight" and "structure", yeah, I get all that, but, uh, no.   I see no "art" there.  I see craft only.

A woman died recently, Agnes Martin.  Her work is in major museums all over the world.  She's a "minimalist", which apparently means "paint a canvas solid blue and call it the sea", and "copy a sheet of lined notepaper".  (There's a good chance she was responsible for the graph paper at Vassar.)  This thing sold for $2,000,000.00.  Seriously.
Two million?  Why?  I see no particular skill or talent.  Go to the Google images of her work (here) and find anything there that couldn't be essentially duplicated by anyone with minimal training in technique (like, how to draw a straight line, how to color within the lines, etc.)!  

Is most of contemporary art a big joke?

I don't get it.

And then there's Cy Twombly.  Some few of his floral-looking things are interesting, but most of his output is like this:
Or this:

I think the REAL "talent" in the contemporary art world consists of showmanship, contacts, networking, salesmanship, business acumen, and a talent for convincing suggestible (rich!  famous!) people that what they are looking at is somehow special. 

Cyndi Lauper and Madonna hit the music charts at about the same time.  Madonna took off and soared while Cindi petered out.  In my opinion, Cyndi was a much better musician, but Madonna was a better manipulator.  

I guess art works the same way.


I used to live near Woodstock, NY, and there are a lot of talentless people there who define themselves as artists. I guess they're right.  They can pick up a brush (or whatever) and daub paint (or whatever) on a canvas (or whatever), and that makes them a painter, by definition.   But just because you can put paint on a surface doesn't make you an artist.

Or does it?

Maybe so.  Maybe they just need to develop that other talent.


the queen said...

I think modern art is art, it just isn't great art. It would be like comparing this years pop music to Beethoven. The stuff you're talking about would be the equivalent of whoever banged a drum before Beethoven. You have to get through the dreck and eventually something great will come out of it, but just one great thing. There's a wing of the art museum here that's devoted to the idea that the process is the most important part of the art, and who knows, maybe that will elevate art someday. Or not.

~~Silk said...

Yes, but the stuff you're talking about isn't the stuff I'm talking about. You're talking about the stuff decorating walls in modest homes, art being sold at small local galleries, paintings by earnest young artists, sold online or at fairs, some of which by the way is every bit as wonderful as Beethoven but is undiscovered by those who decide what "art" is.

I'm talking about a piece of graph paper selling for millions of dollars and hanging in the holiest of holies. The stuff you look at and there's nothing to admire or discuss. It's a shoulder shrug. This is NOT that "one great thing". That's what I don't understand. Why is THIS considered that special great thing?

That's what I'm talkin' 'bout.

~~Silk said...

The problem is that this dreck IS being equated to Beethoven (I like Bach better...).

Becs said...

As for graph paper, you and I encountered plenty of it during our visit to MoMA several years ago. If you recall, it was a pencil line on a piece of graph paper that had us rushing to the exits. Later I learned the good stuff (Impressionists) are on the sixth or seventh floor.

~~Silk said...

Yes! I remembered that day, but couldn't remember the name of the particular museum. The scene that sticks in my head is the two of us, standing still and silent before the worst in a long series of asinine pieces of dreck, and without a word we turned our heads, looked at each other, the message passed, and we ran as one.

Anonymous said...

I am waiting for the day when used toilet paper is presented as art.

Would that be performance art?


rockygrace said...

I am jealous as hell. Why can't *I* draw up a piece of graph paper and get a million bucks for it? Crap.

~~Silk said...

Your plaint has two parts. Anyone, including you, can copy graph paper. But getting someone to pay a million dollars for it? Ahah! THAT's where the talent comes in.

And that's my point.