Sunday, August 07, 2005

On Art

I've not gotten any books out of the library in weeks for fear I'd forget to turn them in, and I finally got sick of reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (which was the only book I hadn't yet packed), so I bought a magazine. It was a fiber arts magazine, although their definition of "fiber arts" seems to extend far enough to include edible books.

What struck me most about the articles in it was not the highfalutinicity (is that even a word?) of the art, but the fact that all the artists seemed to live in some really wacky world entirely divorced from reality, where a green cotton dress in a totally outdated 60's style could be a new work of art that represents "being from the Midwest." One wonders if the artist had ever actually been to the Midwest in the last 40 years, or was just basing her representation of the Midwest on what she'd heard while safe in her cocoon in Manhattan.

Why does art have to be "about" anything? Why can't art just be? Because art is going to mean something entirely different to me than it will to you. The green cotton 60's dress, to me, means "you're about 40 years too late." I find it interesting that other people can find meaning other than that in it, but I can't find any meaning that speaks to me, so I don't like it as art. But if art is to be important at all, it has to mean something to others; otherwise it's just made of its materials and is meaningful only to the artist. And if the artist decides to impose a single meaning on the work-- for example, "This represents the futility of life in a state that voted for President Bush"-- not only does he alienate people who don't see that in his work, but he insults those who may have seen something about the futility of life in the piece, but actually like President Bush.

If art has to have a specific meaning, then it (to me) is not art. Good art will whisper something to you, something you can't quite put your finger on. It speaks to you in a way that no words can capture. Art can only fleetingly and individually be "about" something. If it ever has to be fixed to one meaning, it loses the generality that makes it art.