This weekend, we drifted around Birmingham Artwalk for most of Saturday afternoon – we had missed it last year, for some reason.
It’s a pretty great event. Basically, a few blocks downtown are turned over to artists, who exhibit in the lobbies of law offices, in restaurants, and in parking lots. I liked it a lot better than the usual “tents in a park” art festival – which certainly has its charms. But this was – different. It was a bit more interesting to absorb the art in the context of these varied spaces – the stripped down brick of the attorney’s office, the vastness of the furniture store, in between tables at the coffee shop.
With bagpipes echoing down the street, emitting from we know not where…until we know:
The art was all over the place. Some representational, others not. This was in a storefront window. Mini-cupcakes in juxtaposition with various substances:
Some people hate this. A lot of people hate this. I don’t. I might laugh at some of it – well, a lot of it. But I can’t hate it. Because I am unceasingly, unendingly interested in what’s in other’s people’s heads. I would undoubtedly object if a local government paid a bunch of money to sponsor this when kids are graduating from public high schools functionally illiterate, but when it comes to the pieces themselves…well, if that’s what people want to make, that’s what they want to make. I want to know why.
The most obvious critique against so much of contemporary art is the absence of the transcendent, of God. And its pretension. True dat. But do you see how the two are related? When we push God away, we get pretentious without even trying. By definition, without God, we are pretentious. But that doesn’t make the art any less interesting to me. Because if you are interested in people …as they are…rather than only in ideals, it seems to me that you just can’t wave things off. What is meaningful to you about the cupcakes? Why’d you bother to encase them in a box with motor oil? I want to know. Because it helps me know why I arrange and rearrange words and if there is any point in the apparently pointlessness of it.
Michael walks by, sees this, and remembers. “I LOVE this. I WANT those muffins! But why’d they do that?” Joseph: “Because they want to show what things are like, if they put different things with the cupcakes, like oil.”
Because why cruelly tempt a little boy with unattainable sweets, encased and rendered inedible?
Me: “Is it art?” Joseph: “Yes, because it shows something. Like the art I d0 – I try to show you things, like the way they are.”
To me, the greatest weakness in contemporary art is not the apparent randomness or silliness of it, but (along with the commercial, cynical exploitation of the market) the need to explain. I really think that if your art requires an “Artist’s Statement” in words alongside your visuals, your art has fallen short.
Like this. It’s about oil. And blood for oil. Which you can probably grasp from the image itself, but the “artist’s statement” explains more.
(Pardon the glare. I don’t know how to conquer that.)
One artist was exhibiting pieces that were strips of other, painted pieces, cut up and exhibited on square canvases, about a foot square. Okay. You might have one up in your hotel room. But – as the “Artist’s Statement” explained – these pieces were strips cut from previous pieces that the artist had made and exhibited elsewhere. She had destroyed her own art in order to create more. Now that’s interesting. And food for thought, as a person with one completed, probably forever unpublished novel can attest to. As one who has ripped up thousands of words in order to create something new. But my problem is that you can’t just put what she made on your wall and know that. You must have the “Artist’s Statement” in order to get it. Which is thought provoking in its own right.
So is the purpose diluted by the need to explain?
Or does the need to explain add to the art?
I really don’t know. What I do know is that I have more to say related to the title of this post, today’s Gospel and Artwalk, but that I have to go get Katie at Youth Group, then it’s Mad Men time. So who knows.
And I’m not going to explain.
A few minutes later.
Katie fetched, boys on the way to sleep.
There was some Art that I liked – quirky stuff, composed of drawings on found materials.
Some of it was boilerplate anti-religion stuff, most of it inolving plays on either crucifixes or Guadalupe.
I spent a lot of time looking at one artist’s work in particular – not the anti-religious stuff, but the pieces he had constructed in which figures were seeing, honing in on, examining, illuminating the world around them. He drew on found objects – old accounting ledger papers, figures cut out of books. He drew on them, drew connections.
I wondered if they wondered about me, the crucifix dangling from my neck, looking at their work and complimenting them on it. They didn’t say anything, but I wondered what I would say if they did.
If it weren’t for this – she says, fingering the crucifix – what would the subject of your art be? What would you argue against? What would you be fighting?
And does the fact that you can’t stop fighting against it, that it comes up again and again, hint at something?
Why keep bringing it up if it is meaningless drivel?
Do I believe? Yes. Why? Oh, for many reasons, and the reasons I believe are probably not good ones.
I believe mostly because of Jesus. The one you can’t seem to get away from. The one you can’t ignore.
I can’t ignore him either.
Who do you say that I am?
I’m not stupid – well, in some things I probably am. But generally, I am not stupid. I’ve thought about it, argued with myself and others about it, studied, and in the end, I can’t ignore him. He was real, these things happened, they were real, they are real, and everything has changed.
It’s not what you think. It’s not what you think you know. It’s mercy.
The other reason I believe – well, this is really strange. Not quantifiable.
C.S. Lewis said that there’s no human hunger that goes unsatisfied. So that means the hunger for the infinite is satisfied, too.
Mine is a version of that.
There is this thing called love. The movement to give, to receive, to find the greatest joy in helping another find the greatest joy. There is also this thing called creativity. The movement to reach out with mind and spirt, whether it be with equations, words, paint, cupcakes, musical notes or a plow driving a furrow through fertile soil.
It makes no sense to me that when the being who is capable of those things – loving and creating – stops breathing and his body grows cold and heavy – that all to which he has been moving – all the love, all the creativity, all the sacrifice and compassion – that it just ends there. “Living on in the hearts of those left behind” doesn’t cut it for me either. It would, to put it bluntly, seem to me to be an injustice – if that was it, there. I’m not talking about rewards. I’m talkng about life. It is too amazing to have come as the result of a process and too tragic and unjust if it just ends in decay.
By the way, I like what you do. Keep doing it. A found object. That’s what I am. You might be too.
Who do you say that I am?