It's been a week since I was surrounded by a whole lot of art. I wrote a bit about it on the flight back but then stopped thinking about it all together once I landed as my daily life took the driver's seat. However, I was reminded of the experience last night while quickly discussing art reception with a sort-of-new friend.
The sentence that stood out from the exchange was: "The artist should be able to take it. Criticism, that is."
Artists, de natura, are social commentators and social commentary is bound to attract multiple forms and kinds of criticism/reaction, otherwise it’s not effective. In another life and at a different time, I’d be inclined to fully agree with this. About a week ago, however, I didn’t. Artists perform other functions in life as well, one of them being entertainment that is not necessarily didactic in nature. I realize that the following statement might be a tad scandalous but art has as much value when it doesn't inspire a desire to change and 'teach' as when it does.
It can get tiresome to be taught all the time. Life lessons and art lessons and lesson this and lesson that. Oy weh! That’s too much. Sometimes people just want to be entertained and therein lies the value of the arts. I mean, escapism is not an easy feat. Feeding people's escapist tendencies is, more often than not, a huge service. Huge. Sometimes, after all, all the audience member wants is the chance to escape for a short spell and if the artist can provide an arena for escapism then, voila, mission accomplished.
"So, what do you make of it?" asks the tall, dark-haired painter.
"It's making me sleepy," I say.
I don't think he likes my words. To an insomniac, however, things that have a soporific effect are usually a very good thing. To the artist, apparently, not so much.
“Yes, it’s perhaps hard to, uhm, ‘understand it,’” he says at which point I really want to make some jokey comment about condescension but I’m too tired, jet-lagged, and generally uninterested in the exchange.
I look around for my party. I want to go to dinner and my eyes are wicked tired. Plus, my glasses were forgotten on the bed and my eyes are itching. “Friggin’ dessert”, I think to myself. Can't see worth a lick. Grh!
“So, you don’t like it then, I take it?” Asks the artist one more time.
In a fashion that seemed to ooze a bit of antagonism, I say: “Honestly, I tend to talk about life when seeing a piece of art that speaks to me and I tend to talk about art when doing life. I suppose I’ll end up talking about this piece a few days from now as I discuss bike routes in my neck of the woods, you know?"
“I don’t follow,” says he.
What I meant was I like to discuss the arts without appointments. But this piece is not making me think of anything in particular or make any sort of connections to things. I feel no need to speak as I look at it and that, to me, speaks well of the piece itself. If one leads a highly verbal life generally, feeling no compulsion to speak is a welcome change. The artist doesn't seem to like silence, however. The expectation seems to be that, when at a venue, one needs to 'discuss the work.' 'Why is silence always getting a bad rap?' I think to myself. Hmm.
I could have talked about my desire to be silent but I have no desire/drive to do so. Plus, it’s so hot there. My body’s having a hard time adjusting. You see, it rains a lot in the Pacific Northwest and I’m still a bit weirded out by the fact that I’m wearing a tank top, flip-flops, and shorts in the dessert while just a few hours prior I had boots and a raincoat on.
I don’t really do postmodern art all that much. Not even modern. Picasso, for instance, tends to make me nervous. By nature, I tend to be into Caravaggio. Even El Greco is okay. Just because I seem to get something, doesn't mean that I'm into it. I mean I get Judd Apatow.
De gustibus non est disputandum, after all. You can't choose what you like after all. Alas, it chooses you first.
“But you do Modern Theory though, right?” asks the artist in what I’m interpreting was a mild form of shock.
“I do,” I say, “but I’m not married to it. The whole thing is quite non-committal, you know? I’m kind of having fun with it now even though we were quite serious at some point a while back.”
I then tell him in an effort to finish the exchange kindly, "I like that I want to be silent as I look at it. In this regard alone, your work delivers. C'est tout."
I could have provided more context but I didn’t. I tend to be polite, very polite, after I've eaten. Pre-dinner, however, every zinger my brain has access to will want to come out and play. I was looking forward to some Southwestern cuisine as I was only in town for a day. And that somehow trumped all else. My brain’s simple that way. I’m in too truthful a mood when I’m hungry. And if I haven’t masticated anything for hours, the answer I’ll provide to any question will be the rawest, least processed, hence, truest.