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There's that word again
by Jan Sand
2006-10-11 10:18:44
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The old story is that one psychoanalyst passes a professional associate on the street, raises one hand in recognition and says, “Hi!” The second nods in acknowledgement and the two continue on their way. Each in his turn frowns and says to himself, “Now what in Hell did he mean by that?” This is a feeling familiar to most of us when we visit an art gallery or a museum.

ovi_art01Animals, like birds and chipmunks and snakes and grasshoppers, probably began a few million of years ago with vocabularies easily as complicated and diverse as what plagues humanity today. One must keep in mind that humanity is a very young species, only about a million years old, and still in need of much sophisticated development. Most other creatures became aware of the problems of indefinite communication early in their development and through their long maturation have wisely pruned away linguistic ambiguity.

When a lion growls or a snake hisses we get the message rather quickly. Birds, with their more elaborate chatter, can be a bit more mysterious, more closely aligned to human communication but then, after all, they are bird brained. And thus humans are stuck with words like 'evil' or 'criminal' or 'ugly' or 'beautiful' or 'fashionable' or 'cool' or 'square' or 'fitting' or 'fair' or 'funny' or 'inappropriate' or 'God' or 'art'.

That last one, of course, is a lulu. Many a confabulator has dinnered often and well while skilfully juggling vague concepts as to what it means. The keen thing is that nobody seems to really know. That way, wizard artists can charge fabulous prices for everything from Campbell’s soup cans to simulated dog shit. Their value is crucially dependent on proper provenance; otherwise, any grocery store or dog could be considered a potential gold mine.
For many centuries highly skilled stone workers like Myron and Lysippos and Michelangelo and Donatello, plus scores of equally skilled others, who worked in metal and wood, put out stuff that nobody questioned as to being art. This aberration persisted well into the early twentieth century when people became confused as to what was representation and what was real that male sexual parts on classic sculpture were hidden behind stone fig leaves. Consequently many innocent maidens must have become unnaturally stimulated at the sight of fig trees and probably enjoyed odd thoughts while consuming figs.

The modern era of what the hell was publicly initiated at the Armory Show in New York in 1913 where Duchamp exhibited a curvaceous urinal to either delight, scandalize or puzzle the visitors and those emotions have unsettled the public ever since. Although it is a matter of conjecture as to whether this is the prime motivation of current art, the avalanche of attempts to evoke these emotions since then has left the audience heavily calloused and anyway the general media is so replete with reality that is truly horrifying and shocking that art is crippled to compete.

So what does it all boil down to? How do we consign the Mona Lisa, a soup can, unending outputs of odd patterns on canvas, Michelangelo’s David, huge earth berms in concise geometric patterns, a rather sexy urinal, wheeling constructions of wire and sheet metal, depictions of beautiful naked people, glass and metal flowers, idols depicting frightful super beings, whole buildings with mysterious angles and curves, fibrous weavings in two and three dimensions, films and TV programs and plays and games of all sorts and so on beautiful, ugly, fascinating, boring, repulsive, stimulating, mysterious, almost ad in-finitum? How do we resolve all this stuff?

ovi_art02It seems to me “what is it?” is the wrong question. We should ask “what does it do?” Immediately after we were born a blast of stimulations struck us, whirling screaming galaxies of sound and color and smell and touch. Obviously, this was too much all at once and our nervous system quickly saved us by learning to block the bulk of all this mayhem. We were careful to focus on only those stimulations that gave us reward and pain and gained us control over our immediate surroundings. Everything else disappeared. By doing this, we saved ourselves and lost the bulk of the universe.

What art does is pry away the blocks to show us what we have been missing, what important things we have thrown away. That’s why really good artists appear somewhat nuts. It’s not easy living in a universe of dangerous mayhem, but it is very rewarding if you can survive. The saying “what you don’t know can’t hurt you” is 180 degrees out of synch with reality. What you don’t know is most likely to be very dangerous and you had better find out before it kills you.

That’s why good art is most frequently very uncomfortable. It shows you how precarious life can be. A good life is not always a happy one. There is always something out there eager to get you and art can show you what that might be.

Watch out!

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trol2006-10-10 16:17:12
fully agree..keep your eyes open

Thanos2006-10-10 22:15:11
very good!!!

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