Wednesday, July 2, 2008

What is art?

Since I have some time off, I decided to take advantage of Free Museum Day in San Francisco (first Tuesday of the month - for many of them, anyway) and check out the SF Museum of Modern Art and the Cartoon Art Museum. I've been to the Cartoon one before, but it was my first trip to SF MOMA. Actually, that's not entirely true, as there was an exhibit of props from the original Star Wars trilogy there years ago, and being the geek that I am, I checked it out.

It's funny, because I remember something in the program about how the museum wasn't going to comment on whether the props were actually "art" or not. I wondered why not. Why not just call it art? I mean, just because it was created in the service of popular entertainment, does that somehow devalue it? The people who designed the ships, costumes, sets, etcetera certainly had to have artistic talent, and they drew inspiration from a variety of sources. Obviously, each one wasn't following their own unique vision, but it's definitely a creative endeavor. In my mind, that's what makes it art.

Anyway, I know that a lot of people cringe when they hear the term "modern art." They think of stuff that elicts the response, "I could do that." You know, different colored squares. Big splotches of paint. That sort of a thing. They want to see things that look like the things that they're supposed to be. They like cabins in the woods, mountains, rivers, trees, etcetera.

It's interesting, because I recently watched a documentary on the Nazis and Hitler's particular artistic aesthetic a while ago called Architecture of Doom. It showed how Hitler had some very definite ideas about what counted as art and what didn't. He liked the classical looks. He liked beauty and heroic-looking figures. Anything that was distorted or abstract was food for the fires. Go figure that Hitler would be so closed minded, huh?

As for me, I'm willing to admit my ignorance when it comes to art. I like what I like, but I don't think that I'm really consistent about what I enjoy. I really enjoyed the works of Rembrandt when I went to the Reichsmuseum in Amsterdam, and I would stand there mesmerized at somem of his works just absorbing the amazing attention to detail. As for paintings of little cabins in the woods that you see in hotel rooms, they don't do much for me. I mean, they're nice and all, but I find them to be rather uninspiring. They're just kinda there, ya know?

What about the more abstract stuff though? I don't care for the works of Jackson Pollock, but I've had a couple of people, who know a whole lot more about art than I do, explain what was good about him. I understood what they meant, and it made some sense. At the end of the day though, it just doesn't look very good to me. That's the thing though, I don't want to be one of those people who are instantly critical of anything that's abstract. While I realize that some of it might be popular due to pretentious people who want to sound smart, I also realize that my own ignorance hinders my appreciation somewhat.

So, going through SF MoMA, I decided to just keep an open mind and have a look around. Much of it didn't do anything for me, but there were some pieces that I really liked. One was really wild, and pretty hard to explain, but there was something about the way it all came together and played with my vision that appealed to me. There was some other stuff that was pretty abstract, where I didn't know what I was looking at, but there was either something about the colors or design that appealed to me. I can't explain what's good about it; I just liked it.

So, when is it art and when is it not? Does it matter so long as at least one person enjoys it?

No comments: