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?