Thursday, August 27, 2009

Isn't this a fabulous bench? We passed it while browsing the Grand Ave. shopping district last Thursday.

OK, that's just a buffer for what I am compelled to say about the visit to the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis last Friday. I've spent hours agonizing over this, trying to express what's heavy on my heart without being disrespectful to the artist. Here goes:

I learned something important about respect for artistic expression and vision—and myself during a visit to the Walker Art Center last week.

The center is an amazing venue for contemporary art and I was looking forward to a healthy dose of my current favorite, abstract expressionism.

Gallery after gallery fed my hunger, until my companion and I encountered a piece that totally baffled me. In the center of the room, carefully roped off, was a drain (set into the terazzo, I might add), a child's plastic chair, and a box of facial tissues. Try as I might, I couldn't find anything about the composition that spoke to me (other than the horror of cutting out the terazzo)

"Why is this art?" I asked. "Because it makes you think," replied my very wise companion Shay Sargenti.

After two days of pondering her remark, while we were sitting with our DHs in a wonderful jazz concert, it occurred to me why I had such trouble reconciling the little installation as art: There was no technique, no technical facility, no technical challenge.

It was not obvious that the artist has sweated a color combination, or drafted and redrafted the design to achieve a composition that expressed a thought, idea, or feeling. Watching the hands of the pianist in the jazz group magnified the difference between the two artists. She move skillfully, confidently, and with a practiced facility that expressed (in my opinion) the ability to think in music, sidestepping the need to think it out and then execute the thought—it merely flowed from her.

Apparently I cannot or choose not to separate the art from the craft of art. Does that make me an art snob? No, it makes me a person who recognizes limitation in my view of art. Now, I can change my definition of art to include that which requires no technical aspect, or admit my definition of art has boundaries.

I can respect the artist of the installation for his or her vision, even if I don't understand it or relate to it. However, my respect for artists with skills evident in the composition, such as the jazz pianist or any of a thousand painters and quilt artists are easier to define.

What do you think?


Carole said...

Beth... interesting observation of self and very definitive in expression. My thoughts connect with yours immediately. I have had the same 'reservations' when looking at the 'art' of others...I have come to the conclusion I am a 'methodologist'.. technique often conveys the agony that goes into thoughts of the whole... the end product. Enough said here.

Madeline said...

Interesting, Beth. Just as artists in this country are allowed to express themselves, you also are allowed to express yourself.

It's true that some "art" leaves one to wonder WHY. It's good to think but go with your gut and if it looked like it was thrown into the terrazzo, then it probably was.

I'm not saying these artists or anyone else in particular, but there is a community of lower artists whose ethics are even lower. They will do it for the exposure, the shock, and oftentimes - for the money.

I applaud you for expressing yourself; afterall, the "artist" did!

Dixie said...

I can relate -- installation art has always left me cold. We were at the Tate Modern in London many years ago, and the feature was installation art. One gallery we went into had a sawhorse, a tarp, a can of paint and a child's pink boot. To this day, we don't know if that was part of the show or if they were remodeling. So, I need to see something that tells me that there is actual thought and work in a piece, too.

LoieJ said...

Remember when people would look at "modern art" and say, "I could do that." or "My 4 year old nephew could do that." Well, I guess so. But then, there would be the reply, "But you didn't."

So is "the artist" laughing all the way to the bank?

Delta said...

So, given equal technical prowess, how would you differentiate between a pianist playing 250 year old Mozart compositions and one playing their own composition? Is one an artist and the other a mere skilled technician?

June said...


Your self-observation rings a note with me. I have often said to myself: "respect the art even when you can't love it." Or even, "respect the art even when you can't admire it -- and keep returning to it to see if it improves upon acquaintance."

The 30 second look can provide a thrill, but the 30 different days of looking can provide depth and insight. Or not, but at least you'll know more, about the art and yourself, after 30 days. After 30 seconds, you know very little of either.

Thanks for sharing these insights. I think they are important, particularly to a self-absorbed society, not just of quilting artists but of westerners in general.

Beth Wheeler said...


I don't think one must differentiate between the two. They can be appreciated and respected as separate entities, not in comparison with one another.

—but you really made me think before I responded! :-)

Carol Ann Sinnreich said...

In recent years, I have made honest, serious efforts to study & understand abstract art. I conclude that I lack the genetic marker that would allow me to understand most created since, say, the mid-1950s. I don't understand the point of most current abstract art unless there are obvious graphic design elements upon which the artwork hangs. And most installation art I have seen is more incomphrensible and leaves me cold. For me, it is a waste of time, effort, and gallery space. Sorry.

Suzanne said...

I was POSITIVE that at the end of this story you were going to tell us you had discovered it was an actual maintenance project and not art at all. And that the joke was how seriously you had tried to "get" it. Alas, not the case. I'm with you on your reaction.

Barbara said...

I know how you feel and have at times been appalled at what some have deemed art. I guess the most horrific is the infamous starving dog in South America. Shocking and horrifying people is not art to me and only shows their lack of skills. Hey, anyone can do some of these type of pieces, no skill, talent or education needed. It is all about the PR.
At one time I would have been more generous in my appraisal but no more. I have seen a great deal of talent undervalued and some great artists under appreciated.

Judy Ferguson said...

As an artist, my objective is self expression as well as communication with the viewer. When I do not communicate my expression to the viewer, I am just creating something that only I understand. For some artists, this may be enough.

Ann Butler said...

When we were in Washington DC last year, we went to the Smithsonian Institute, a place where one can appreciate ART of all kinds, but there was one exhibit in particular that made me wonder how in the world is this here????? It was made of WIRE HANGERS, the art was in how they hung????? To me that is not ART there are to many talented people in the world who do not get the recognition they deserve, so when something like this display is in the Smithsonian Institute, it had to have been donated or because of great PR for the person who came up with the idea.......and true art goes undiscovered.

Leah/ Texas/ United States said...

I agree. I dont think you're an art snob. it's unfortunate that "stuff" like that and some other "stuff" that wastes space on museum walls, is permitted to waste space that could be filled with Real ART. Yes, I agree technique is important. Art is the product of labor and skill and creative inspiration. What makes matters worse is when someone tries to put an "artist" "statement" to something like what you saw. It's like a slap in the face. As if it has some kind of meaning. But apparently someone thinks it does. I guess in the least it can serve as motivation to continue creating meaningful things, to offset the ugliness around us in society (I'm not necessarily referring to that thing you saw, mostly I'm referring to the violence and brutality etc)... I guess I'm rambling by this point.

Great photos - is that a GIRAFFE in the farmers market? Yes!!!

Hope you find your camera especially if it still had some un-downloaded photos on a SD card or something.

Carol said...

I have problems getting to grips with "Installation Art" myself. I think I've only seen a handful of works that I actually liked, appreciated or understood(outdoors, temporary, meant to decay).