If you are like me and spend too much browsing around on the internet, you have probably run into this video:
It’s quite entertaining because even though its ridiculous its not quite clear that this guy isn’t serious. If it wasn’t for the clips edited in on the end it could very well be confused for an earnest attempt to “appreciate” an art piece. To be absolutely clear: its not an art “installation.” Its an unfinished clean up job. A mess. But what makes it art, at least what attempts to make it art, is the explanation, the “appreciation” of it: that it is a “commentary on disposable American society” and how “the cardboard and Styrofoam are gently melding” makes it sound almost plausible. The real kicker, though, is the statement, “But it is art, otherwise it wouldn’t be in a museum.” The very act of naming it art and placing it in an “art museum” change the object. Even in the course of the video we see a crowd gather and the museum guard questions her own evaluation of the “piece.”
This is what, I think, what “appreciating” art has come to mean for a great many people: being able to wax poetic about what it “means” and how it “speaks.”
So at this point someone might get caught up in this whole process and delightfully insert some pithy evaluation like: “Wow! Art is EVERYWHERE! Isn’t that wonderful?” Lets go further and spiritualize it: Its just a pile of trash, but its in process. Just as this “installation” is part of an ongoing movement, a process of becoming, if you will, so the pilgrim, the sojourner, moves forwards towards the horizon of becoming, a horizon that is constantly opening to new vistas of potentiality. Also, just as this “piece” is art by virtue of the fact that it is located in a museum, so the pilgrim is beautiful because he is included in the community of God.”
Wow! That sounds great, and certainly there is a bunch of good theology in there. That’s certainly one perspective. The problem is the “piece” in question is not actually “art”: it is as pile of trash. The only reason it happens to be in a museum is because it is the wreckage of an old display and must be removed before the new on can be put it. The intentions of the maker are paramount. There’s another whole angle to explore! And if we liked the hermeneutic that produced our beautiful story of pilgrimage, above, how would we feel if the same hermeneutic produced something like: Some people are trash, and they need to be removed so that real beauties can take their place. Ouch. Whats “in” the art is actually simple “in” the interpreter.
Whats my point? I guess its this: In our efforts to “appreciate” art are we really seeing something that’s out there? Or is this attempt merely a solipsistic exercise in turning everything into a mirror so that we can “appreciate” ourselves and how clever we are. I’m not sure how I would define “art” or even “beauty” but one place I would start, perhaps, is that beauty doesn’t need to be appreciated by anyone to be beautiful.
These are unfinished thoughts on a busy morning.