Tuesday, May 5, 2009

conceptual art

In one of my art history classes last week we were discussing the Dada period, basically the birth of conceptual/ modern art, aka what most people think is crap. Inevitably, one of the non art majors in the class verbalized the one phrase that endlessly urks me: "how is that art? I could do that."

...Yeah. But you didn't.

Modern art is one of the most controversial topics in art culture. People say it just takes up space. It's usually not pretty. What is it? What qualifies it as actual art? What qualifies anything as actual art? In my opinion, the problem is not necessarily with the art itself, but in the way people are looking at it, or not looking rather. In our society, art relies way too heavily on superficial value. I admit that when I'm looking at something in a gallery, I think to myself, "this is not so visually pleasing... next?" Because that is the way our society has conditioned us to judge, and i'll admit, I am a visual person and I like surrounding myself with things that are nice to look at. However, the reason I am so intrigued by conceptual art is because it completely challenges this way of thinking and judging. It actually necessitates that the viewer use their brain to decode the message that the artist is expressing, but the thing is, the artist doesn't usually care if you understand it or not because he didn't create it for you, he created it for himself. That is something I respect. But the question stands, what defines something as arbitrary as a literal pile of cow feces, or a chair in the middle of a field as art? After reading the book about Squeak Carnwath, I came upon this definition: "Conceptual art elevates a quotidian object or action to the realm of art by the decision of consciously observing and isolating it- distinguishing it as outside of the regular and imbuing it with a meaning we then decode through our own personal associations." I see art as both scientific and poetic; experiencing, observing, absorbing and then recording the process of examination and the expression of experience. This process is what makes it art. Not the fact that you perfected the rendering of a human nose, but WHY and how this is an expression of something below the surface. What I love about art is that there are so many ways to define it, and that's the beauty of it.

More quotes from Squeak Carnwath's book:

Art is proof of human majesty
Art is an act of devotion, a practiced witnessing of the human spirit.
Art is trust... trusting your instincts. To believe, to observe, to borrow, to create, to become.
It is not the job of art to mirror. Images reflected in a mirror appear to us in reverse. An artist's responsibility is to reveal consciousness; to produce a human document.
It makes our invisible visible.

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