Look To Each Other

my latest work-in-progress

my latest work-in-progress

Josh laughed from the back seat of the car. He read aloud the text that made him laugh: I’m in MoMA (the museum of modern art) and someone dropped a glove. Now, people are walking around it because they don’t know whether it is art or not!

I’ve spent a goodly amount of my time on the planet in museums of contemporary art and know that most folks passing through the museum have the same confusion about the pieces on the walls. What makes something art and something else not-art?

Almost a century ago Marcel Duchamp entered a urinal in an exhibition and gave it the title, “Fountain.” At the time it was scandalous and now represents a major milestone in art history. Today, a urinal in a museum exhibition would get the same treatment as the glove on the floor: confused consideration. Is it or is it not art? The beauty of the glove moment, the thing that binds it to the urinal moment, is that, in both cases, the gallery goers looked to others, perfect strangers, to ascertain a proper response: it is art if they say it is. Art, in this case, is an agreement.

This agreement, looking for approval about how to behave when confronted with the art-or-not-art question may seem superficial until you consider that recently people in Paris lost their lives over a disagreement of what was art and what was not. In recent history (2001), the Taliban destroyed centuries old giant statues of the Buddha in the Bamiyan Valley. They considered the statues idols (not art) and dynamited them off of the face of the earth (I will leave you to discover and ponder the irony between my Paris and Bamiyan Valley examples).

the words written into my work-in-progress

a close-up: the words written into my work-in-progress

Art is meant to open our perspective, to make us question, to help us see. A society that is capable of seeing is also a society that is capable of questioning; they go hand-in-hand. Questioning is always present when people are growing – so is art. Questioning also begets tolerance – it requires us to doubt our perspective and consider the view from someone else’s shoes. In these times when I hear someone bemoan the end of civility and the horrors in the world, I wonder if they’ve argued to cut art from the schools or  recently attended a concert to hear music to move their soul. Art is dangerous to leaders who like their people blind. Art is offensive to people who want their community thought-less. I delighted that somewhere in the world, in a museum of modern art, a group of people walked around a lost glove and looked to each other for guidance.

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