Friday, April 18, 2008

Thoughts on Art

What is art? The question has puzzled thinkers for ages, how can you quantify that which is in essence intangible? The nature of art is that it possesses a quality distinct from the materials it is comprised of. That quality is metaphysical; an artist is a conduit, bringing forth that which has already been conceived. The art existed in the artist absent the medium of its expression – memories of copyright . . . I make no claim to give a categorical definition of art that will suit everyone, but here is my conception of art. Art is creative expression of that which is aesthetically pleasing. Art – including improvisational art – is created by innate skill or mastery of technique which requires intention, effort and care. Art can be emotive, visual, auditory, anything really; the common thread is that it instills in the observer a sense of life, peace or inspiration. Art is that which is aesthetic. Aesthetic is that which is beautiful and emotional, and that which is beautiful, is pleasing, excellent in form and expression. Even in our “ugliness,” there is artistic expression. Professor Reilly commented in her post that Martha Graham’s unique style of dance was, “release, passion and peace -- raw, ugly and real.” In her words, “ugliness is relative,” and she is right.

To me, art is life affirming, because it is uniquely human. The ability to create art is one of the most profound qualities we as humans possess. We create for the sake of it, and the results are breathtaking. With such a broad conception of art, is it possible to reject something claiming to be art as non-art? In Yale Daily News yesterday, a story broke about a senior who self-induced a series of miscarriages for the purpose of art. The project was done as a “documentation of a nine-month process during which she artificially inseminated herself "as often as possible" while periodically taking abortifacient drugs to induce miscarriages. Her exhibition will feature video recordings of these forced miscarriages as well as preserved collections of the blood from the process.”

My heart broke when I read this; it struck me as the very antithesis of art, destruction of life in order to “provoke.” This senior has certainly made a statement, but at what cost? Setting aside the morality issues, can this expression really be art? Viscerally, I want to say no – it is not life affirming, it is not a representation of death, it is death. But by incorporating other elements into the project which portray her experiences, did she transform death into excellence of expression? Where was the mastery of technique? Can damage to your body be a technique? These are questions I cannot answer, but I think this speaks to our brokenness as a culture. The feelings inspired in me upon reading about this project are sadness, pain, and frustration. Perhaps, then, this is art. This project reveals the ugliness latent in us, the ability to destroy for a statement. It is real, it is raw, and it evokes emotion; death is a part of life and its expression impacts us. Destruction too, is uniquely human.

Imaged: Graham Company dancers and Michelangelo’s Pieta, upon which the Graham form is based, both are undoubtedly art, and both are representations of death.

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