A couple days before he died, David Bowie did a strange thing—he released an album, Blackstar. Not only did he release an album, he released an album that is entirely about his own immediately impending death. As an artist he was afforded an opportunity to make one last gesture, one last attempt at communication with his audience before he slipped into oblivion. (more…)Keep Reading
When it comes to art, everyone’s favorite whipping boy is conceptual modern art. Each of us knows the experience of standing in our local art museum and feeling a bewildered rage at the jerk who nailed bits of string to a wall in the shape of Chairman Mao. Or Benny Goodman? Or maybe the Mona Lisa? Or nothing? We all hate this. It confuses us. It annoys us. It makes us ponder whether or not the National Endowment for the Arts is really a worthwhile use of our tax dollars. It makes us cheer whenever the working class hero of our favorite sitcom accidentally urinates in Marcel Duchamp’s critically acclaimed urinal.
And, frankly, we’re not wrong to think that way. The sad fact of the matter is that much of conceptual art is really terrible. Not in the sense that the artists who make it are incompetent, but in the sense that what they create frequently fails to do what art exists to do—communicate.
A piece of art is a piece of language. We create it in order to say things that cannot be said except through colors or novels or guitar plucks. When we see a truly good work of art, a painting by Van Gogh depicting a farmer in a field for example, it imparts something in us. Maybe that something is a simple idea, maybe it is just the beauty of a moment, maybe it is just an awe of the immense effort and skill it took to create it, but it is always there.
And yet you might wander through the entirety of a museum like the Tate Modern or the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art or Pittsburgh’s Mattress Factory and feel like you’ve gained anything from the things you’ve seen. Feel nothing but void and boredom and the soreness of your feet.
That is a failure. Sometimes it is a failure of your own small mind, but more often it is a failure of the artists themselves. A failure of their laziness, their pretension, their stupidity, or their complete misunderstanding of what it is they, as artists, are supposed to be doing when they beg us for a sliver of our short, cluttered, rapidly ending lives. (more…)Keep Reading