The title might be a bit misleading, for what prompts me to write this is actually trying to understand juried art shows. But I am engaging in an off and on again quest to understand art. Tonight, it was on.
I have a working definition in my head of what is, and what is not, art. That definition is like a viscous fluid: it changes, but slowly. That in itself says something, because it didn’t always change. And it was a narrow definition.
I’ve written a couple of pieces for Dangerous Intersection on struggles with right-brained phenomena: “What makes a poem a poem?” ( 9/13/2011) and “A gene for artistic interpretation and 2001′s odyssey” ( 12/13/2010). I’ve read some Dan Pink – “What really motivates us” (2/2/2012) – sort of unrelated, but not entirely…Dan Pink wrote the 2006 book “A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future”, which I started but set aside for a couple of others. I’ll get back to it, but I’ve also been reading a manuscript (or book, now, I guess) – “Right: A new design perspective for business innovation: Right thinking in a left‐brain world” so I could offer feedback. And learn something, perhaps.
Enough digression…that ought to demonstrate that at least I’m trying (title tie-in). I am just back from another Plano Art Association 125 Show (for artists residing within 125 miles of Plano, Texas) – the 7th Annual installment. And again, for some reason, this show challenges that working definition … demanding that I change it. The problem is, I don’t respond well to demands. I tend to question them at the least and more often than not, resist them. Whatever it is about this show, I find myself disconcerted more than any other.
A back story to explain something before I continue… as I’ve noted before, my wife Andrea’s emersion as a professional artist two years ago, as well as her taking over CityARTCal, Inc., and publishing Fine Art in Dallas this past year, has exposed me to a world far outside my comfort zone. Almost two years ago, she came back from a visit to The Modern in Fort Worth, excited about what she saw/experienced. She was showing me some pictures of pieces she found inspiring and one exhibit was of a huge array of wrapped hard candies. I said out loud, “That’s not art.” You might anticipate the reaction, but I have it etched permanently in my brain: “You can leave the room now.” I left, but now when she asks my opinion (a rare occurrence…she knows me) and if I think to myself those three words … I simply say “I can leave the room now.” No argument. Simple, eh?
Fast forward to today. My second “125 Show”. Understand that this was a juried show, with a selection of some 60 pieces exhibited out of more than 360 submitted and prizes for Two Dimensional Art, Three Dimensional Art and Print & Photography as well as a Grand Prize for “best art in the show” (those were the words I heard – more to follow on that.) I had to leave the room a couple of times. Not just figuratively – I left the gallery…to think a bit. Last year, I first couldn’t understand how some of the pieces made it into the show and then really couldn’t understand how some of them won prizes over the ones that didn’t. Andrea talked to one of last year’s jurors and got a little bit of feedback. I had left the room (recurring theme), so missed out.
This year, before the awards were announced, one of the jurors (there were two) explained the process by which they made their selections. He said there was a lot of discussion, averaging 10-15 minutes per piece. The decision for Grand Prize took three and a half hours! The jurors shared that they would be around for at least an hour if anybody had any questions. Andrea mouthed, “Ask”. And then the coordinators announced the awards.
Stubborn me. I knew that there was no way they, the jurors, could explain in terms I would understand (or probably accept) their rationale. So I didn’t ask. More’s the pity, for I did talk to the husband of an artist, who I gathered from our conversation also sees himself as an artist…part time, for now. The discussion went longer than I wanted and not in a direction I expected. He couldn’t understand why I would want to pick the brains of the jurors and I couldn’t understand why he couldn’t understand. I made it clear that I’m trying to understand things I don’t understand. Should be an admirable endeavor. Apparently not.
We agreed that appreciation of art is subjective, but that seemed about it. His position was that it shouldn’t matter what the jurists thought, because it won’t affect how I view the art. That’s an odd perspective. If I learn something that causes me to look at a piece differently, then obviously what they thought could affect how I think…about art, anyway…or at least that specific art. The argument seemed to revolve around the premise that we (the Association, the artists, the patrons, the world) entrusted these two jurists to select the “best” art, so why the question? How can I expect people to explain what moved them and why? My counter argument was that the jurists clearly had a process (they said so) and thus should be able to explain to me their choices. And “best” is a term I have come to dislike in these shows. I think a better adjective would be a phrase: “the piece I/we liked best”. That would be honest. I’m sure that we might someday have a computer that can analyze technique, composition, color and more and determine the “best”, but as Data on Star Trek the Next Generation could create a technically perfect work of art or music, how can a computer measure feelings? I don’t usually “feel” when I view art, which is why I’m exploring the subject. I’m given to understand that I’m missing something.
One name came up (outside of the artists presented) – Damien Hirst – and how the media and art world alike reviled his openings when he first burst on to the art scene in England. I had heard the name, but looked him up when I got home. He’s a shock “artist” – apparently quite wealthy – who does some …very different….work. One titled Beautiful revolving sphincter, oops brown painting is intriguing…I did something similar at a Boy Scouts fair when I was ten…spinning and paint…but his brilliance is that he sold it as art. And the husband was right – the Guardian had unkind things to say about one exhibit, as did The Telegraph.
Here is a slideshow of one of Hirst’s more bizarre exhibits. Judge for yourself. My take? I’m going to leave the room now.
Anyway, that was a non-productive discussion tonight, save to reveal to me how closed minded someone seemingly proud of his open-mindedness (data points from past interactions confirm formed perceptions) comes across. I still don’t get how some pieces were selected, but then again, I don’t really have to. I’d like to, but I didn’t talk to the jurists.
I know I can be closed minded on certain subjects. I’m trying to fix that. That’s why I’m reading books on right-brainers, and going to art shows, and trying to understand what makes some things art and some other things better art…even if I don’t agree. Maybe I’ll find fewer reasons to leave the room.
I’ve got lots of opportunities to learn. There will be another show on Friday as CityARTCal partners with the American Airlines Center, and yet another on Saturday (The Gallery at Casa Manana) exposing me to more art. I’ve seen some of the art for the American Airlines show and the Casa Manana show already.
I won’t be leaving the room.