Art comes from a french word that means “skilled work, craftmenship”.
Artist used to be artisans. Artists were like carpenters. They had a craft and they did it. This last century has seen a lot of changes in art. The main thing people have become confused on is the “definition” of art. What is art?
There’s a common misattribution here. Many artists will finangle over definitions of art. Whether or not one piece or another is art. Often times their definitions are hard to articulate because they want to exclude “such and such” piece from the category by definition.
I think this is incorrect thinking. It begins with the assumption that “All Art is Good”. The idea that if something is “art” it must be good, right? Or maybe it’s just simpler to not play categorical games. It’s art. It’s just shitty art.
And this makes sense if you think past all the art-school rhetoric. We don’t say something isn’t “plumbing” just because the plumber broke your pipes. It’s still plumbing. It’s just not very good plumbing.
I think the vast majority of circular silly arguments that go on in art circles is due to this misattribution. Lets just call a spade a spade.
What about the kind of post-modern wankery that goes on? Found objects don’t take skill, right? Sticking a urinal or unmade bed isn’t skillful right? Take DJs. They aren’t “musicians” in the classical sense. They don’t write the music. They take bits and bobs from all over the place and mix it together. The first DJs were really just guys who switched between songs and it evolved into something much more complex.
So where do you draw the line between the guy who curates the songs and the guy who creates new songs? DJing is musical found object. That’s a very grey field and a single artist can go in between it. The line between artist and consumer used to be very sharp because artists were primarily craftsmen, like carpenters. With people like Duchamp, artists weren’t about craft, they became about ideas. It’s not skill in handiwork but in conceptual communication.
This isn’t a endorsement of Duchamp, but I recognize that things like the modern design movement has it’s roots in this shift. I think the message he has to convey is inane. As you say people play a lot of philosophical games.
So how about a simpler definition. Art is simply “A visual communication of emotion or idea through a skill”. Duchamp uses intellectual skill to communicate an idea. Van Gogh uses skill with color to convey and emotion. Whether or not it’s good art will depend on the skill of communication and the worth of the idea.
As for Tracey, the ideas are worthless. There is low skill there. Puttering around about the definition is futile though. Either way we can just call it “shit”.
First thought- Performance Art is like a Video Game
Let me tell you about a very strange and weird experience I recently had, and how it gave me an interesting insight.
Last week, I went to a contemporary art show. It had a focus on performance art. I have my fair share of issues with contemporary art. I consider myself often at odds with it, and especially performance art. I even had a friend unfriend me once for a facebook status likening performance art to video games. Read on though and you may be surprised by this thought.
I wandered in, a man dressed like a ramshackle Katamari Damacy sat on a throne next to the door and muttered nonsense to himself. This itself was only whimsical, vaguely harmless, like something beyond the looking glass, but nothing that could harm you. I walked upstairs to the main event.
There was a room. Three women painted white, dressed in white, poured white sugar lines on the ground from a white gasoline can. One directed, one poured, and one cleaned up the mess. Surrounded by this, was a girl, all incased in plaster. I’d actually heard about this from the person who invited me. This girl incased her whole body in plaster, like being buried alive, and slowly broke out of it. The image of a butterfly coming out of its cocoon came to mind. I think often times, people grow numb to the crazy weird fascinating world around them. In order for this to happen, the caterpillar’s body basically liquefies. I guess bugs don’t exactly experience consciousness, but I have trouble understanding what it would be like to remain a thinking being while your body dissipates and reforms. By the way did you know that the last stage of the life cycle, the butterfly is called “imago”, the latin plural being “imagines”?
Anyway, next to all this was a fellow in a crushed blue velvet suit with a slicked back pompadour, playing a white piano and reciting nonsense poetry like some kind of late night jazz singer. If you got to close to him, or looked at him too long, he would stop playing and stare at you and smile. His eye contact was uncomfortable. You had the urge to look away, to ignore it happening. Look away and walk away. Everyone was clustered on the edges of the room, backs to the wall, watching, probably hoping that the jazz singer wouldn’t look at them.
It felt uncanny, like being in a David Lynch film. Steady repeating of senseless motion with a little weird American kitsch thrown in the corner for good measure. It got stranger still though. One strange, long haired, Japanese man just walked into the middle of the room past the sleeping guy in the kiddie pool (oh yeah, I forgot about that guy, he didn’t move much), right past the white sugar lines and stood there. There was a sudden rapid motion from one of the ladies in white. The other two dashed to his side. The one with the gasoline can laid a line down in front of him, ringing him back in, and hurriedly the other with the broom swept away the line that was behind him. He was back outside the perimeter. What had seemed to been senseless clock work had a rhyme and reason. It had rules.
Like a game.
Video games have had trouble being called Art. One major charge laid against them has been that they’re interactive. They’re not guided experiences like a movie or a poem, or painting.
I decided to test my theory that these were the rules that this game operated on. I steeled my courage, tried not to look at the smiling jazz man and walked, exposed in the whiteness, into the center of the room. The white ladies swarmed around me and did their duty. The line was swept from behind me and a new line was in front of me. I felt a bit like I was on the edge of the apocalypse.
I took another step, crossing that line again. They came back, bustling around me without saying a word. I was winning the game.
Art isn’t interactive. Here though is performance art, and it’s also interactive. Remember that friend who got mad at me? My sarcastic insight has been that a performance piece I had seen a different night was basically just a shitty parlor game that wasn’t much fun.
Video games can be competitive like sports, but they’re also explorations. Explorations of mechanics, rules, understanding “how things work”. Contemporary art could probably learn something from game design. The weird conceptualizing of contemporary art could be utilized with the more structured “experience” design ideas of video game designers. That would be interesting.
What Halloween Houses can learn from Contemporary Art
Here was the second insight. After this weird little game experience, I walked down stairs (The elevator was mostly empty but occupied by a girl dressed as a cheap clown hooker playing 80s UK club music. Most people took the stairs). I headed towards the bathroom. There. In the corner was person. They wore some shapeless white clothes, a torn white hood with a face drawn on it. Behind them was a recorder. A voice spoke, distorted, slow, low, like a kid with Down’s Syndrome being possessed by the devil. She just stared. Every few minutes she would take a sponge, soak it in vinegar and drop in a glass fish bowl filled with baking soda and it would sizzle like bacon, and foam up. It smelled awful. Vinegar smells so bad. It was pure uncanny creep out.
The Uncanny is a huge thing in contemporary art circles. The Uncanny, as used in art circles, is a strange thing made familiar, or a familiar thing made strange. The whole Uncanny Valley thing, which many gamers are familiar with, is very much in line with this. Contemporary art doesn’t like making pretty things because that’s uncool now. At least the uncanny shit is awesome though.
I had two insights then, going to unload the rest of my cautious nervous bowels.
- Smell is fucking important for these kinds of in body experiences. The really creepy thing that cinched it was the smell of vinegar. The smell of death thick in my nose.
- Halloween houses could learn from this.
You know those corny-ass haunted houses? They turn out all the lights and get some guy to rev a chain-saw in the background. They’re really goofy. It is kind of freaky having a man waving a chain saw running at you, but they aren’t really that scary. Often just stupid.
That girl didn’t chase me. She didn’t say anything or even move. She just stood there, and it was one of the scariest things I’ve seen in real life. I was in a bright hallway surrounded by people. By myself? I’d have peed my pants.
I mentioned David Lynch earlier. He’s the master of the uncanny. Could you imagine a haunted house like Eraserhead? If you haven’t seen it, check this out I want a Silent Hill like horror experience. A haunted house like that would be next level shit man.
Wanna help me make one?
Just a thought:
I think my perfect writing nook would have to have several things. First of all, It would need to be small, and minimalistic. Like closet small. Barely big enough to sit in, but minimal so that it wouldn’t feel claustrophobic. Everything would need to be in reach from one spot pretty much.The desk itself needs to be HUGE, like art desk huge, and flat and simple. No books. In the writing nook, I write. Getting distracted by reading is too easy.
Secondly, natural lighting, like a huge window that looks outside on a non-distracting view. Something simple, not a street or something like that, unless it was second story and you wouldn’t have people passing your view all the time. At night, there would have to be good lighting, so Christmas lights, and those lights that are at the same color temp as sunshine. Got beat back seasonal depression in the dark etc.
Thirdly, a huge surround sound system would be awesome. Something that could just drown me in noise would be a huge help. It’s not just music, but also sound, white noise, rain loops etc. Nothing better than having all your sense of hearing overtaken by a tidal wave of audio.
Fourthly, a water cooler. I’m not much for drinking anything other than water (and maybe absinthe or rum), so an easy access water cooler would be good.Possible someway of getting sweet iced tea too. I drink it. I drink it like it’s drugs.
Another nice thing would be just some kind of basic constant air freshener. Like a plug in or something. Yeah, that’s a small thing, but having a good scent around me really puts me in a good mood. Actually a candle here would be really nice since the flame is a feel good kind of thing. I’m partial to more masculine scents, like pine, and cinnamon. Not a fan of many flowers, except maybe rose, if it’s mixed with something spicy.
This is sort of a maybe. It could be a bad thing but having some kind of non-intrusive company would be good. A sleeping kitten perhaps. Someone who doesn’t talk, and doesn’t bark and doesn’t do much other than sit and be warm.No pooping in the nook though.
Lastly, in addition to being mostly bare, the desk would also need to be both a standing, and sitting desk. I like to stand when I work. Hemingway did himself. I find it gives me more energy, and helps with circulation. For sitting, the chair would need to be a straight back, sturdy wood chair. Too soft a chair, and I end up turning into a puddle. No motivation.
Prompt by Dan Noar: jackie chan adventure talismans but with the western zodiac
Sagittarius—- The Archer: Using this talisman allows it’s user incredible aim and dexterity. This is not merely a physical ability but also a mental one to a limited degree, allowing the user to pin down the facts in a confusing situation. They are most defined by a clear mindedness that can cut through the swathe of confusion that surrounds them. Those who already possess a cool head are of course drawn to this further enhancement of themselves.
Capricorn—- The Sea-Goat: The powers of this talisman are probably the strangest of them all. It allows the user to transform half their body, into half of something else. The Sea Goat is itself such a thing, half goat, half fish. This half shape shifting ability can be useful, or stupidly useless, depending on how the user chooses to wield it. Those who use it often too come from an unconvential background, and have never quite figured out where they fit in.
Aquarius—- The Water Bearer: This talisman has the power to create overwhelming forces of nature to power out. This is not merely limited to water, but any natural occurrence. Sandstorms, lava spills, tidal waves, gusts of wind. The sign itself is a reference to the one who poured out the waters of the Great Flood, and as a result those who are most drawn to its power are often themselves prone to an outpouring of emotional energy, both negative and positive. The bearers of this are often those who are most emotionally open and prone to easy access of their mood.
Pisces—- The Fish: Those who use this talisman are given a strange power of astral projection and teleportation. Much like those of Gemni, the sign of Pisces is a double sign. It’s place in mythology was as the form which some of the gods took in an attempt to escape certain death. In this way, the sign bears out it’s mythological roots. Unlike Gemni which creates two forms which simultaneous live in space, Pisces creates an astral form which walks on another plane of existence, while it’s bodily form is trapped on a slower plane of reality. When exiting that higher plane, the user’s bodily space location switches to the location where the astral projection ended. This appears to all viewers to be a form of teleportation but it is not, as the user must actually still walk/fly/crawl to the location which they desire to end up at. However, in that higher plane of existence, time passes slower, so their teleportation abilities are still quite useful in spanning long distances.
Prompt by Dan Noar: jackie chan adventure talismans but with the western zodiac
Leo—- The Lion: The power of this talisman is the power over people. Lions are not in fact that strong. Male lions, the iconic kings, are especially lazy. Lions excel in their ability to gang up on the weak of other species. They form a pride, and this is their greatest strength. A lion is not the strongest large cat, but facing 30 of them is certainly worse than facing even the world’s biggest Siberian Tiger. Those already with strong leadership abilities will gain the most from this talisman, and will find its power enthralling.
Virgo—- The Virgin: This talisman has the power to revert a body to its state. On one hand this could create a kind of healing effect, reverting a bullet wound back to unscarred flesh. However, this is not just a healing power, instead, it has a twisted edge, allowing it to reopen old wounds too. Those who desire the power of the Virgin are often unstable individuals who may both be good hearted or inhuman, and many time both.
Libra—- The Scales: Those who use this talisman are able to discern truths but only of things which they do not already have an opinion on. To give an example, if a person held a geo-centric view of the universe, and held this talisman, then they would upon taking the talisman still believe that theory. Those who are most apathetic, or objective in their view of the world will be able to gain the most from its power. The bearer of this is torn between the necessity of being unopinionated and non-judgmental, and the power of actually being definitely right in all arguments they ever have.
Scorpio—- The Scorpion: This talisman grants the user the ability to quickly strike deadly blows. Using this talisman their hand to hand combat abilities excel, by sheer speed alone. Those who are drawn to this talisman are often secretive or shy. They would rather hide under a rock than deal with most people, and as this ability allows them to quickly deal with their assailants or victims, it tends to minimize chit chat.
Prompt by Dan Noar: jackie chan adventure talismans but with the western zodiac
Aries—The Ram: Juggernaut like abilities, where forward momentum allows the talisman bearer to charge through almost any obstacle. This talisman works it’s greatest strength with willful or stubborn personalities. Those who are most narrow in their vision and driven to their task will gain much, both in power and peril through this strength.
Taurus—- The Bull: Great strength. The abilities of this talisman are fairly straightforward. However, they also come at a cost. The strength of the bearer depends on the their inner strength. This strength derives it’s measure from the restraint of the character. Those with anger issues are most often prone to enjoying this talisman, but only those who control it also can gain its true potential, much like a great bull must be lead by the simple ring in their nose.
Gemini—- The Twins: The bearer of this talisman can exist in two spaces at once. They will be able to be both in the kitchen, and in the backyard, for example. They will retain full control over both sets of themselves, which will be indistinguishable in how “real” they are, however, these two sides of themselves will not share the same knowledge until they come back together. Those who seek this talisman are of two kinds also. They are either deceptive, being people of low integrity and willing to live double lives, or they are thoughtful introverts, people who are used to thinking, talking to, and spending time with themselves as company.
Cancer—- The Crab: Those who use this talisman become unbreakable. Cancer is a constellation set in the sky by Hera, who sent the Crab to fight Hercules. When Hercules smashed the Crab’s shell, Hera honored the Crab by placing his image in the sky. Those who take this talisman will be able to endure infinite trails and never break. Those who are most attracted to its power are the ones who have already endured the most, and have a survivors heart.