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Art is Boring

9 June 2010 One Million Watts 5,555 views 2 CommentsPrint This Post Print This Post Email This Post Email This Post

A few years ago, my wife and I were walking through downtown Seattle when we saw some scruffy college guys, eight total, standing on the four corners of an intersection. They were all holding duffel bags with a hole cut out of the end.

Curious, we stood back to watch. At first we were convinced a crime was about to be committed. Some well-trained group of super jewel thieves were going to make off with all the jewels in one of the nearby stores, perhaps a Brinks truck would drive through and the bazookas they had hidden in the bags would go off, blowing the tires of the truck and scattering gold bars all over the streets. The possibilities were endless.

As we stared, we saw that inside the duffel bags were video cameras. The men were filming the intersection. We were still fascinated. Perhaps it was a political protest. Paint on fur coats? Smashing the windows of the Nike store? What was going to happen? The possibilities were narrowed down, but still, there were an impressive number of them to consider.

Then, the guy closest to us turned and smiled in our direction. His coat was open and his shirt said, “Art Institute of Seattle”.

“Oh,” my wife said, “it’s art.”

We immediately turned and walked away.

I really had to consider my reaction. What about the fact that it was an attempt at art made me lose interest completely? Isn’t art supposed to be thought-provoking, challenging, engaging, transcend our daily lives a bit to give us perspective and if we’re lucky, a little inspirational beauty.

The word “art” has been devalued. We live in a world where every middle-aged lady making chunky coral-jewelry in the craft room of her second husband’s house calls herself an artist. In fact, I’m writing this while eating a sandwich made by a “sandwich artist” on artisan bread while reading Donald Trump’s “Art of the Deal.”

Of course in this age of anti-elitism, any attempt to reclaim the term is going to be met with resistance. Just look at what happened when Roger Ebert tried to say that video games are not and never will be art. Scroll down into the comments section for a really spirited discussion.

The most liberal definition of “art” claims that it can be anything. That it is the skill and intention of the creator that defines whether it is art or not. If that is the case, it becomes a meaningless word. I even saw a plumber’s van that claimed that the plumber driving was a “plumbing artist”. It also had a talking plunger on the side, which was pretty funny.

All I can say is that the whole discussion is pretty pointless. Leave the word “art” to the people who study it, and just enjoy what you enjoy. Not being art isn’t an insult. The BBQ joint I frequent is great, but they shouldn’t be offended that they weren’t even considered for a Michelin star.

I would love for art and artist to become elitist terms again. A title bestowed upon a very few by a group of scholars and intellectuals who make decisions about these things.

Then, once the word is restored to its former glory, I will know to avoid art and artists.

Of course, I have a whole wall of paintings in my house of monkeys dressed as characters and people I admire, so who am I to judge what’s art?

David Wahl


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  1. […] Link: Art is Boring << Monkey Goggles […]

  2. My reaction would have been precisely the same. But to be fair to those partciular videographers, the act of video-ing shouldn’t be interesting. They went out of their way to be inconspicuous. It’s just possible that the result of their effort (the edited video) will be at, maybe even elitist!
    I would much rather have plumbers abuse the word art than museums, who seem to be doing more lasting damage.

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