We, as a species, have declared ourselves to be the most clever of all the species wandering this planet. No doubt we are on top of everything. Not only are we are the only species to yodel with knickers glowing, but we're also the only species to make art. And so i wonder; if we are the only species to make art, making it unique to ourselves, why is it such a struggle for us? If it truly is in our nature, why do we wrestle with it so? The collision here is with evidence that it's unique to ourselves and that it must therefore inform us about ourselves and our development, and with our difficulty in creating it, never mind defining it. That art is the result of many collisions/intersections deep within the recesses of our evolution means only that the surface may be a facile one for our gaze in a moment of awareness, a flash of color and form or a sound that elicits a quick response that puts us in joy or dropkicks us into disappointment. On its surface, we may see color, read words, hear melody, and follow dramatic action, but if we don't encounter meaning during our gaze, something that expands the experience beyond its immediate presence, we are likely to be disappointed, and that piece of art is unlikely to be held in high regard.
I've always thought art should be meaningful but felt that its primary objective was to subject us to beauty, not from afar, but from within, for in beauty is proof that we belong to the rest of the planet and that we are not some being apart from nature, but rather another piece of it, no more or less special than any other. If we could create beauty, giving forth to us the same wonder and awe we experience in the landscapes and creatures around us, we would have verification that we do indeed belong, though we may have referred to this beauty in other terms, such as putting us closer to the divine.
After reading "The Art Instinct" by Dennis Dutton, i've come to believe that meaning is likely more important than beauty, no matter the definition of beauty. This book made me realize that the artist is what interests us (historically) in art more so that the work itself, a concept that turned all i thought i knew about art on its head. i always held that the Work has an objective distance from its creator, since in the end it must exist on its own, without the presence of the artist to prop it up with obscure intents and motivations. A careful study of art history reveals that it is the ability of art to inform of its age and its creator that holds our attention over time, and that art with only beauty to sustain itself fails to engage our attention through history. Mr. Dutton articulates this through his study of forgeries, noting that there have been many through time, many of them so brilliantly produced that they left little doubt among experts to be true "Vermeer's" or "Rembrandt's". Yet when they are found to be forgeries they are discarded, no matter their beauty, for they cannot tell the story that we need to be told, or fit into the puzzle that is the era of their production. We need art to tell us about ourselves more than we need it for the pleasure of its experience. It is, over time, the only mirror we have, and if we find beauty alongside the insight and information it gives us, so much the better.
Excuse the lack of picture. Imagine a dandylion stuck between a little boy's toes, with bees swirling and the windmill on fire.
The Starn Brothers have an installation on the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York that consists of a hive of bamboo lashed together in an ongoing construction that one is able to wander through.
The project takes a natural weed, bamboo, and cuts it, moves it, lashes it, and fashions it into something belonging to "us", and in doing so appears to summarize our time on earth. A project doesn't have to do much more than that, does it? It is abstract, fundamental to its core, and brings us face to face with our origins, and perhaps the origins of art itself. That it speaks to shelter, a making of place, creative use of naturally occurring materials, and displays our ability to imagine makes it a significant articulation of all that should embody art, without bending to current fashion. That it crowns a museum devoted to the history of art seems all the more fitting, as does the concept of the work; that of a work in progress that the visitor, at the moment of ones visit, experiences to be a whole work, but is only a slice in time of a much longer period that can only be understood with the passage of time, just as those in the museum below, subjected to thousands of years of changing attitudes over just what is "good art".