Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Proletarian and Proud

We are sitting on the deck of the Crow today, scoffing down cheeseburgers and fish cakes - my friend VF, who lives in Cape Breton, her friend from Art College days in Britain, Ken.

It’s instant Good Lunch Date chemistry between the three of us, and I adore Ken’s British/Irish dry, biting humor. At one point, he makes an outrageously honest observation and VF laughs and chides him a little.

“You’re so
polite, Canadians,” he replies, “so un-European.” He turns to me. “You’re the most European Canadian I’ve met,” he adds.

There you have it. Not “rude.” Not “belligerent,” “tactless” or “insensitive.”
I’m European.

I’ve earned this, I suspect, by telling the following story – fresh from Monday at work:

We’ve been waiting for the Gallery to send over possible prints or paintings for the wall near the circulation desk. The College owns a fairly impressive collection of famous artists' work. Finally, they send a couple choices. One of them is a big black square, surrounded by five inches of matting board, surrounded by a nice wooden frame and done, no doubt by a Very Famous Artist.

“How about this?” my boss asks. I look at her like she’s gone stark raving mad.

“It’s a big fucking framed black square,” I reply. “Are you joking?”

“Don’t hold back now. Just say what you really think,” one of the Gallery staff comments with a huge grin. The other Gallery person looks a little offended.

“It’s ugly,” I continue, “and it’s A BIG BLACK SQUARE IN A FRAME.” They seem to be waiting. My boss holds it up to the wall. “It goes well with the security gate, “I say, pretending to be fair and add, in case they aren’t getting it, “I’m serious.”

Once again, I have established myself as a cultural toad. A tasteless peasant. Someone has to call it on the Emperor’s New Painting.

I’m sorry. But I have to look at it this way, the way I subsequently defended my judgment to my boss.

1. It’s a big black square in a frame.
2. It’s the kind of art that makes regular people think they aren’t smart enough to understand art. I hate that.
3. In a hundred years (or even fifty), if anyone saw it – and didn’t know the entire context – just saw it, I figure they’d guess it must be art because it was so nicely matted and framed. But seeing the big black square in the middle, they would wonder what art had been there before something happened to it. Be honest. This is a distinct possibility.
4. No one has to know the “context” of really great art, music or literature – even though that might add something. There’s enough for spirit, mind or heart to connect to that you don’t require three years of art theory to like it.
5. It matched the security gate. I mean, really – think about that.

And this, darlings, is my very European opinion.

PS. Credit where credit is due. Conversation between Weedy's son - then a child - with his father.
Son - "What's that, Dad?"
Dad - "That's sculpture, son."
Son- "What happened to it?"


beadbabe49 said...

what a wonderful story! yes...I'm "european" also...plus I absolutely agree on the art...if you have to explain it it's not great or even particularly good art....museum collections not withstanding!

Leazwell said...

Well, if you ever needed punishment I would recommend Rothkos and Pollacks to be hung from ceiling to floor all over your walls .. maybe even a few Andy Warhol Cambell soup pics and such. Honestly, how much talent or genius is required to paint a black square...ohhh, but it's the mood, you see, and the way it transports you... humbug! Get a telescope.

LJ said...

Drinks all 'round for we Europeans!

Jess said...

Hilarious, LJ, thank you, I needed that! I will have to reread this every morning for the next week, it will crack me up every time. And I totally agree with your numbered points! Security gate, indeed...

LJ said...

Welcome Jess. Frankly, I cracked my own self up thinking about it. I'm afraid I don't amuse everyone, though. They just don't understand this European thing.

phlegmfatale said...

response #3 was spot-on for me. Sad you have to explain this to people. Annoying, actually. Shit, _I_ am an artist and I find that type of work such a colossal public hoax that it's depressing.

Katie said...

Well, number 2 on the list definetely struck a chord with me: "It’s the kind of art that makes regular people think they aren’t smart enough to understand art." I recently went to an art gallery locally with a friend of mine who is somewhat of an art afficianado. This was my first time ever in a gallery and the snooty sales people looked at me like I was crazy as I asked my friend questions about what some of the paintings or sculptures meant. She stressed to me repeatedly that one of the best points of art is that it is what you want it to be. This resonated well with point number 4: "No one has to know the “context” of really great art, music or literature – even though that might add something. There’s enough for spirit, mind or heart to connect to that you don’t require three years of art theory to like it." And so not only do I think that your points are dead on, I also feel a passion for art now that I had previously not known. Great post. Funny too! Hope you are doing well :)


LJ said...

PF...I try to balance between being open to new concepts - after all, every new school of art or thought is considered heresy at the beginning - but the square finished me. I've seen non-representational art that absolutely speaks to me, but seeing this thing...all that came to mind was exclusionary art done for other artists only. And I know that the art world can act like the fashion world, too...who's in and who's out. Who's doing the latest thing. Knowing this piece was a valuable sacred cow didn't help. I can't stand those cows.

J. - That "snooty" stuff makes me crazy. I love it when an artist or people in the art world share their enthusiasm and like to explain work to people. I have a standard question when I don't understand - "What were you thinking about when you made this?" Someone sincere will answer that. Someone who is a big fat fraud and snob will not. And your friend gave you a wonderful answer. The viewer should connect in their own personal way and bring their own perspective to the piece. Sometimes it really adds to know about the artist's process and be able to place her work in context, but when you walk into a gallery and look at something...it should grab you on some level, without explanation.

This one stirred the pot for a few people, didn't it? A friend once surveyed scientists about their opinions on art and creativity - and I was amazed how many of these creative people were stopped in their tracks by snotty sales people, horrible grade school art teachers and the like. And amazed, too, at the fact that in adulthood, it still hurt like hell.

Koru's Daughter said...

You are spot on again, LJ. Let me add that I have troubles with art that is just an ordinary item that someone declares art. For example, Andy Warhol "made" a Brillo box (like the ones that the supermarket gets with the individual consumer packages in them) and submitted it to a museum. There was a big discussion along the lines that you wrote about. Jeez.

I am holding an exhibit in my front yard. May I direct your attention to these exeptional pieces: Dying Shrubbery, Leaning Mailbox and The Pine Cone Collection.

LJ said...

Guffaw! KD, don't forget to look serious and brooding. Give withering looks to anyone who asks questions.

zhoen said...

Just because it is pretentious, that don't make it art.

Good for you for trusting your own taste.

This from A Big Fan of Rothko.

LJ said...

Slinking in. I like Rothko too. But I still defend the rights of anyone to hate whatever "art" they hate. For me, it's the black square guy. For L, it's Rothko. For KD it's Warhol.

Stand up and be proud Art Peasants of the world!

I loved "just because it's pretentious, that don't make it art."