Monday, September 22, 2008
The Discomfort of Art
I was told the other day by someone of respectably high intellect that they didn’t approve of a great deal of modern art because it was impossible to enjoy. They cited the National Endowment of the Arts as being a force in changing art from pleasure to self indulgence. Which led me to question their political values, not aesthetic values. You see, I understand the argument the person was making, that if the art work cannot be enjoyed it is not something that should be called “art”. But I disagree with that. I believe art should make you uncomfortable if that is the desire of the artist. I believe art should comfort you if that is the desire of the artist. Art, especially of the past century and current one, has drawn all the lovely flowers there are to draw. The lovely children and lovable clowns are all painted to near delirium. But Guernica by Pablo Picasso captured an event in emotion. People looking at it were unlikely to think it beautiful but couldn’t stop looking for the pain and horror it presented. Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ struck a chord in people as a work that both could be an argument that the artist was mocking Christians and mocking their symbol by submerging it in urine, or served a greater purpose in creating a work of art that merged both the event that Christians remember as being paramount, and placing it in a container filled with waste, which is certainly how many non-Christians treat the crucifixion. You can ask yourself which concept you think the artist is suggesting, but my point with both works, is that by getting people to think rather than just admire or be mentally soothed, some art serves a greater purpose. I will return to this theme soon, but it won’t be limited to the visual arts. In what way can music express bad things and still be good for the soul? How can we hold in our hearts anger and express that and it is good? All will be revealed, but for now just remember that while art is all about the intent of the artist, you can of course still enjoy works for whatever strikes your tastes without a shred of worry.