I found the following video fascinating because... I love art. I have been to dozens of art museums all over the world, and I have often said the words, "I can do that." (See my blog post titled The Eye of the Beholder for more about that subject.)
To Those Who Have Looked At Art And Thought I Could Do That An Art Curator Explains Why You Couldn't
However, I vehemently disagree with this presenter's central supposition; pushing back on "unappreciative observers" by claiming that "it's their problem" if they cannot appreciate something which is obviously below the artistic standards of a two-year-old is a cop out. Much of what is called "art" in this generation will not survive to be admired by future generations because - to put it bluntly - most modern art is crap.
Don't get me wrong, there is something to be said for challenging artistic norms, breaking new ground, and using creative license to push any art form into new avenues. It doesn't matter if an artist is using oil on canvas, sculpture, photography, musical composition, etc.; the mark of a true artist is someone who takes their chosen field to new heights. However, within each artistic field are pretenders who are in a race for the bottom, while at the same time protesting that your lack of approval for their creations is due to some deficiency on your part. That - my friends - is a load of cow poop. (And as a quick case in point, a load of cow poop has been considered "art" by some people, which perfectly illustrates my premise. See Why is Modern Art so Bad? for more.)
The presenter in the original video asks her audience to consider asking why they didn't actually create the art which they are critiquing, and then posits the inane suggestion that her viewers are actually incapable of doing so. This assertion is also a bunch of hogwash; the reason why most people do not actually do the things they say that they can do when it comes to art is because: 1) most people realize that the unskilled smearing of paint on a canvas is a colossal waste of time and money, and 2) most of us are not con men.
It is a sad fact that in this day and age a lot of the peddlers of modern art make their living from convincing the rest of the world that anyone who cannot appreciate their art is simply "uncultured," so most everyone plays along in order to not seem like a unsophisticated simpleton. The presenter in that video is a perfect example; it's her job to make you think that you simply aren't as refined as she is. But the truth is - you're a much better person for standing back every once in a while and exclaiming, "That's a big pile-o-poppycock; I could do that." What's more, you're probably helping the art world. As more people begin point their fingers and laugh at the ever-growing number of incompetent charlatans who are passing themselves off as "artists," perhaps we'll finally be able send them back to art school where they can develop some sort of talent. Or even better, maybe these artists will get real jobs and quit milking the empty-headed stooges who continuously buy into their deceptions.
One parting thought, take a look at Can You Tell The Difference Between Modern Art And Paintings By Toddlers? and see if you can tell the difference between actual modern art paintings and creations by four-year-olds; I'll bet you'll find it nearly impossible to accurately separate the two sets of "art" into their correct categories, regardless of your appreciation for modern art.
OK – I have to make a shameless admission: I really like Jonathan Coulton's music. Jonathan's style is sort of like modern-day-Internet-geek-cyber-folk-pop, as if that's a real genre.
Anyway, years ago he wrote a song called "Code Monkey," which became something of an Internet hit. (Hey, I'd call over one million downloads a hit.) If you're curious about the song, you can browse to http://youtu.be/MNl3fTods9c in order to see it with the lyrics.
That being said, fans of "Code Monkey" might not be aware that Jonathan teamed up with Greg Pak and a few additional artists, and together they converted "Code Monkey" and several of Jonathan's other songs (like "Skullcrusher Mountain," "Re: Your Brains," etc.) into a weird little graphic novel.
Truth be told, I'm not a graphic novel kind of guy, but I love the song - so I ordered a copy through Greg Pak's online shop.
My signed copy of the graphic novel just arrived, and it was a great read; it was fun to see the characters from so many of Jonathan's songs brought to life, even if it was just for a hundred pages or so.
For those of you who are familiar with the song, you're probably wondering to yourself, "Does Code Monkey finally tell his manager to write that @#$% login page himself and win the heart of Matilde, the girl of his dreams?"
Well, you'll just have to order the book and find that out for yourself.
(FYI – The graphic novel was a Kickstarter project in 2013 which was fully-funded in just 12 hours; it eventually reached $340,270 of it's original $39,000 goal.)
I was watching the Rush Clockwork Angels Tour on DVD earlier today, and the video reminded me of a story which illustrates why I have always liked Rush, and why they have always been an atypical band.
Back in the early 1980s I saw Rush in concert several times; with each new Rush album would come a new Rush tour, and I caught every Rush show that I could. On one occasion, (I believe it was the Power Windows tour), I was at the front of the crowd directly in front of Alex Lifeson and hugging the barricade which separated audience from entertainers. In something that must be a performance rarity within the music business, the girl beside me and I actually carried on a conversation with Alex throughout the show.
Here's one such example - after Alex played a guitar solo, the girl next to me held up one hand with the international "you're number one" symbol and yelled, "You're the greatest!" Alex looked surprised, stepped back, shook his head, pointed to himself between chords, and mouthed the words, "Me? No - I don't think so..."
The next song was Limelight, which contains one of my favorite guitar solos. As Alex nailed the final notes of the solo, he looked to me and shrugged his shoulders as if to ask, "How was that?" I held up a hand with the international "OK" symbol, and I yelled, "That was pretty good!" Alex smiled and nodded, and then he replied, "Okay, I can accept that."
And that was how the rest of the show went - the anonymous girl and I commented on every song or solo, and Alex kept us entertained by his reactions. But the over-arching thing that I realized during that concert was: Alex was just a normal guy.
Despite being one of the central figures in one of the most-talented rock groups in history; Alex wasn't putting on airs, and he wasn't acting like a big rock star. Instead, he was down-playing our compliments, and playfully joking with audience members. I think that's one of the things which has endeared the members of Rush to their fans over the years: despite having earned a host of accolades, they seem indifferent and almost embarrassed by praise.
Humility in greatness - that's such a rare thing in today's self-absorbed entertainment industry, and one more reason why Rush is one of the greatest rock bands in history.
Several years ago my wife and I entered the Leavenworth Half-Marathon; we had recently both lost weight, and we wanted to do something big to test our new-found health. Because the half-marathon takes place in the Fall, I knew that the leaves on the trees would be changing colors, so I brought my DSLR camera and tripod with me.
On our way back to Seattle after the marathon, we passed by several groves of trees on either side of the road that were displaying a dizzying array of radiant colors. As we approached a road that was announcing a new housing development that was coming soon, I thought this would make a great place to take photos - especially before the developers cut down all of the amazingly colorful foliage to build houses.
As we turned off the main highway between Leavenworth and Seattle, we stopped on a newly-graveled road that led to the future construction sites. To the east of the road was a veritable wall of brilliantly-colored trees, while to the west was an unfenced field with the run-down remnants of a farmhouse and barn.
I got my camera gear out of the car, while Kathleen settled down in the front seat of our car to take a quick nap. I walked along the gravel road, and I stopped periodically to set up my tripod and take a few photos.
Nature did little to disappoint me; it seemed that everywhere I turned I was surrounded by an eruption of vibrant color. My only regret was that I wasn't a better photographer with skills that could capture what my eyes were actually seeing.
I had been careful to stay on the road as I took my photographs for no particular reason; there were no fences that prevented me from crossing into the woods or the nearby field - I simply felt no need to leave the road to line up any of my camera shots. In hindsight, I suppose that I didn't want to track a bunch of mud back to the car.
After a half-hour or so, I had satisfied my inner shutterbug, and I packed my equipment to leave. As I walked back to the car, I realized that if I walked into the field on the west side of the road, I could line up a photo with the barn in the foreground and the grove of trees in the distance.
I have to be honest - there are hundreds if not thousands of photographers who take endless numbers of barn photographs, and that's simply not my style. But on this one occasion, I thought this particular arrangement might result in a decent photo or two. With this in mind, I set down my camera bag in the middle of the road near our car, and I walked a hundred yards or so into the field near the barn.
I set up my camera and tripod, then I lined up a shot, and I set my timer to take a single image. As I heard the shutter click, I happened to notice someone walking towards me from the general vicinity of the dilapidated farmhouse. As the person drew nearer I realized that it wasn't Kathleen, but the stranger waved to me and I waved back cordially. I turned to look at my camera when the stranger's voice was suddenly audible, and I heard him yell, "What the @#$% do you think you're doing!!!"
At that point, I realized that the situation was going to be bad.
As he walked up to me, he swung his arms widely in the air as he screamed a tirade of expletives that made little sense, punctuated by occasional moments of clarity when his threats of beating me to a pulp were all-too intelligible and disturbingly believable.
My would-be assailant drew to a stop within inches of my face, and he continued to hurl fiery verbal spitballs of ill will as I stepped back instinctively. I apologized profusely for whatever it was that I must have done, to which my aggressor shouted that I was trespassing. I apologized again, and I replied that this was my fault entirely; I had seen no signs nor fences to indicate that the property was privately owned. I hastily explained that I thought the land was unoccupied prior to the commencement of the impending development project, while my infuriated companion continuously mocked my every word.
In my former career as a technical support engineer, I had dealt with more than my fair share of angry and unreasonable customers, and I was drawing on every ounce of experience to try everything within my power to diffuse the situation, but nothing seemed to work. My assailant continued to scream at me as I said that I would take my things and leave. As I reached for my camera, my belligerent host screamed, "Don't you touch me!!!", and he jumped back several feet. I explained that I was simply going to pack up my camera, to which he angrily responded, "It's on my land!!! It belongs to me now!!!"
Up to this point in the conversation I had been on the defensive. (Or more accurately, I had been in retreat.) But once he mentioned keeping my camera equipment, I switched gears and strongly remarked, "No - this doesn't belong to you, and I'm taking it with me."
My sudden change in tone prompted a different reaction from my antagonist - he demanded that we call the development company so that I could explain why I was trespassing. I agreed to his terms; after all, I probably was trespassing, even if I had done so unwittingly. But I also thought that whomever I spoke to at the development company would have to be able to participate in a more reasonable dialogue than my enraged escort.
As the two of us walked towards the farmhouse, I had no intention of actually going inside his derelict dwelling. (I've seen too many horror movies for that.) But I suddenly remembered that I had left my camera bag sitting in the middle of the road, and I changed course to recover it. As I did so, my hostile host shouted, "Where are you going???"
I explained that I was going to retrieve my camera bag, but I was now near enough to the car for the shouting to wake Kathleen. As she sat up in our car's front seat, my unwelcome companion suddenly noticed her, and it visibly dawned on him that he was outnumbered. (Even if neither Kathleen nor I were ready to provoke an all-out fight.)
Despite his earlier aggressive stance, my would-be attacker now backed away rapidly, and he yelled at me to leave as fast as possible, and he demanded that I call the property company on my own so that I could explain why I was trespassing. (I agreed to make the call, but of course I never actually did.)
As Kathleen and I drove away, it took a while for the adrenalin to burn off and my nerves to mend. Once we had arrived home safely, I looked through my collection of photos from earlier in the day. I had a few nice photos of colorful leaves, but what I really wanted to see was whether the solitary photo for which I had risked life and limb was worth the potential hazards that I had endured.
I will let you be the judge... here is the actual image:
I think this is the last time that I will try to photograph a barn.
I have a very easy measuring scale for determining what I consider art: "If I Can Do It, It's Not Art." This may not seem like a complex rule to live by; but when you consider it, it's rather profound. There are a lot of people who will pass off their work as art even though it is actually a bunch of junk.
I have been to a lot of art museums because - I actually like art. But I have witnessed a lot of pieces that are not art; they are elaborate hoaxes by conmen who rebrand their particular style of garbage construction as creative genius.
For example, when I went to the the Neue Pinakothek in Munich, Germany, one of the paintings hanging on the wall was a large canvas where the artist had painted a once-inch red dot in the center of the canvas. This was titled "Red Object #2," or maybe "Red Object #3..." I can't really remember. The point being that this painting was obviously part of a whole study the artist had done on... red objects. Of course I'm looking at this creation and I'm thinking, "I can do that; I could have done that with a crayon."
I've gone to the Seattle Art Museum several times, and I find it absolutely amazing what some people consider 'art'. Now don't get me wrong, there are some amazing pieces of artwork inside the Seattle Art Museum. But there was one canvas where the artist had simply painted an already white canvas with the color white. That's it - just white paint; nothing else. Once again I'm thinking, "I can do that."
At a different museum that I went to in Germany, the Lenbachhaus, it was very evident that an artist had stood at the end of several canvases that were lying on the ground and simply threw buckets of red paint at them. Once again, I can do that - it's not art.
I realize that the perception of art is subjective, and there is a lot of truth to the statement that "Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder." But I always fall back on my personal standard that if it's something that I can do, it's not really art - it's just what people pass off as art. (For an example of how I think most modern artists come up with their ideas, you need to watch the movie The Wheeler Dealers with James Garner and see how the character Stanislas creates his artwork.)
Another perfect example of the ways in which we think about art can be typified by an experience that I had when I visited the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. The museum was presenting an exhibition on impressionism, and I'm a big fan for many of the classical French impressionists: Renoir, Monet, etc. During my visit I entered one of the rooms, and there was an enormous painting by Gauguin hanging on the wall. I'm not a big fan of his artwork; however, I at least consider it art because I can't do what he does.
But as I analyzed this particular painting, I was thinking to myself, "I just don't get it; he only used four colors." I started to think about this painting based on my personal scale; I could have done this, so it can't be art. I (embarrassingly) spent several minutes studying this piece, and I tried hard to determine what it was about this painting that other people can see and I must be missing.
It's like the story of The Emperor's New Clothes; at some point you begin to worry what's wrong with you. If everybody else can see it and you can't, perhaps it's a character flaw. Maybe you're just not cultured enough. And this was the mindset that I had while I was wasting away my afternoon studying that single piece of art.
After I had been standing there for 5 to 10 minutes, a ten-year-old boy entered the room with his mother in tow. He took one look at the painting, laughed, and exclaimed loudly, "That's crap!", and then he walked off.
At that point I realized that I had been duped. I learned that I needed to stick to my instincts and measure every piece by my personal standard that if I can do it, it's not art. This philosophy actually helped me enjoy the rest of the day at the museum. I could walk into a room, I could look at a Renoir and say, "Now that's a piece of art." Or I could look at another Gauguin and say, "That's crap."
It never ceases to amaze me the number of people who walk around with a tablet PC and try to use it as a camera.
I don't care how many megapixels a tablet PC has - it's not a real camera, and people look pretty silly trying to hold up a tablet in order to use it as one. Not to mention the fact that people with tablet PCs are typically blocking everyone else's view.
Please do yourself and the rest of the world a favor - if you need to take a photo, buy a real camera.