What is art?

During a Saturday afternoon wander in London, joining the throng of tourists meandering along the river, I decided to head to the Tate Modern. It’s been some years since I’d been there (Anish Kappor’s Marsyas was the installation at the time) and my art tastes veer towards that end of the scale so I do enjoy visiting it

The current installation is a large crack in the floor of the old Turbine room, installed by Doris Salcedo, and represents:

Whilst I’m still trying to figure out HOW the crack was made (it’s definitely the original floor, or a very very good copy), what was more interesting to me was how people were reacting to it, and interacting with it. Like myself, most people started at the top end, nearest the entrance, and traced the crack the length of the hall, peering down into the depths, occasionally glancing back. Young children hopped over it, adults stood astride it, intrigued, puzzled and in no small matter fascinated.

Wandering the entire length of the hall only to find that the end of the crack doesn’t reveal anything more, or less, than the beginning, I wondered what had driven me to do that. Surely there must be more, surely it can’t just be a crack in the concrete? I wasn’t alone, with huddles of people at the bottom end of the hall discussing the whys and wherefores.

As ever it was the human interface to the art, seeing the piece through the eyes of others, that was most interesting. To those standing astride the chasm there was almost a sense of dominance, of man over matter. The ability to overpower something that was not fully understood perhaps? Given that the crack, even at it’s deepest point, was no more than 7 or 8 inches deep then surely the subconscious was more at play than any conscious thought?

Moving upstairs to view a few of Munoz’s pieces was a completely different, and personally far more disturbing experience. Two pieces in particular, both of which deliberately feature midgets (his words, not mine) to challenge our preconceptions of sculpture and beauty. The pieces themselves were simple, a young man standing on a table, clutching a chess set, a young woman on tiptoe to view photos of herself spread out on a pool table. The featureless faces adding to the discomfort of viewing. Interesting experience.

Alas, the rest of my wander round the galleries wasn’t as inspiring with the Idea and Object level being particularly hit or miss but I’m glad I went. As far as art goes, like most people, I know what I like but I’m also open to being challenged with what I view.

What is art? The question is the answer to itself if you ask me. If you have to ask, you’ve already been provoked/challenged/intrigued enough to consider the question and that, is art. Although, re-reading that sentence, isn’t it just the kind of self-righteous, head-up-arse response you’d expect from an artist… oh dear.

11 comments

  1. There are a few pieces of art at NY’s MOMA that I struggle with. 1) TWO completely white canvases. Unrelated. 2) one completely blue canvas. 3) a black canvas.

    Come on now. Put your back into it, boys.

  2. I was there last month and was bemused to see three or four students sitting alongside the crack sketching it. Hmmmm.

    Oh and my 4 year old niece got her foot stuck in it. Artfully, I might add.

    (She is already an accomplished artist herself, having drawn the emblematic pic of me on the Misssives.)

  3. There is always something I just don’t “get” in a modern museum but it is always balanced by loads that take my breath away. If anybody is ever tired of hearing the sound of my voice, just send me to an art museum (modern, or traditional). I’m usually struck dumb within moments of my arrival and the silence continues for hours afterwards.

  4. Charlie and Steve Do Frieze…there is series of videos for the seriously cultural about Art here:

    Start with this one, but be sure to watch the others for a complete educational experience.

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