One of the questions that preoccupies me more often than what I would like to admit is the question of what ART is. I have my own ideas, based on experience, but these ideas tend to flex and alter depending on my interests and focus. I remain stuck on the idea that a work of art--in any media--should create awe and spark some kind of transformation in the viewer/reader, even if it is subtle, while eliciting questions. Always questions.
The following is a melange--from the simple to the complex--that can be absorbed in parts or as a whole. It's not meant to be comprehensive, or even that cohesive, although I do hope it stirs your own ideas on the subject.
The Dictionary.com definition of art is appealing, but lacking. It reads: "The quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance." The missing word in the definition is "considered." The phrase should read: "The quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is considered beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance."
But, from the moment we enter "considered" into the equation, we bring in the role of cultures, traditions and their attendant biases--and these provide the fodder of endless discussion.
So many definitions of art go by the wayside as new trends come into being. What remains constant is the idea of art as play and experimentation, and who was a greater master at this than John Cage? Currently, there is an exhibit at the MOMA in NYC called, THERE WILL NEVER BE SILENCE: Scoring John Cage's 4'33"that runs through June 22, and features what is known as Cage's "silent" piece, which is made up of three movements during which a performer produces no sounds. The work, which lasts four minutes and 33-seconds, was considered radical as it shifted attention from what the performer was doing onstage to the audience. Cage has said that through this piece he hoped to attune listeners to silence as a musical structure. The work is said to synthesize Cage's exploration of the idea of chance operations, experimental music and the visual arts.
In this month's issue, ARTnews features an article, "How Artists Are Using Music to Seduce, Confound (and Entertain) Us" by Elizabeth Fullerton on the use of music in art. Music currently plays a part in exhibits at the New Museum in New York. Jeanine Oleson's, "Hear, Here," which recently opened there, for example, features an experimental opera. Hip-hop, which played a role in "Art into Music," a show that just closed at BRIC House in Brooklyn, will also figure in shows later this year at the New Museum.
The use of multi-media and the idea of including the audience in a work are not new, but are being done in increasingly fresh ways to raise consciousness, often about social issues. For example: "Operation Paydirt/ Fundred Dollar Bill Project" at the New Orleans Museum of Art, features children and scientists together in a show that intends to raise awareness about the issue of lead-contaminated soil.
Chryssane Stathacos, who works in various media, engages her audiences in a conversation about the feminine, healing, ritual, the environment and change. She recently toured the U.S. and Canada with her Rose Mandala installations.
Also engaged in the conversation about the feminine and spiritual in art is painter and sculptor William Rock who has toured the world doing collaborative projects with Chinese poet Huang Xiang. In recent years, he has recently focussed his attention on sculpting divine feminine figures from the Bon tradition and is of the belief that embracing the feminine and the divine in art will help to raise the consciousness of humanity.
How will the role of the feminine and the divine evolve in art? And how will it be interpreted?
Among American critics, Rosalind Krauss is one of a handful of women I can think of-- others that come to mind are Deborah Solomon, Karen Wilkin and Barbara Rose--stretching the boundaries of art interpretation in what remains a male-dominated field. Krauss is a founder of the quarterly art theory journal, October, and teaches art history at Columbia University. Her focus is artists working in three dimensions, and she is interested in feminism, post-structuralism and post-minimalism. Originally a follower of formalist Clement Greenberg, she shifted her interest in a theoretical approach that focussed on the purity of an art form (more Greenberg's view) more to the aesthetics that capture historical and cultural issues in a work. Krauss's essays, "The Originality of the Avant-Garde: A Postmodernist Repetition" and "Photography's Discursive Spaces" are important reads.
Deborah Solomon's controversial biography, American Mirror: The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell, published this past November, sheds some interesting light on what might be called Rockwell's darker side, and dares to point out homoerotic aspects in his work. (The Rockwell family has called Solomon's work, fiction). Solomon, who has also written bios of Joseph Cornell and Jackson Pollock, offers fresh insights on the repressed, insecure artist, who often went along with his critics in believing he was no more than an accomplished illustrator.
Does art arise out of self-consciousness or out of consciousness of the world, or both? Why is the role of the feminine and spiritual playing such a prominent role in today's art? And where is this going? These days collaborative art is including the public in its discourse in exciting, innovative ways, expanding notions of what space art should occupy as well as ideas about space itself. As the conversation about art grows, its definition alters and expands too.