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« Women and Drama 2: PatrickH Has Been There | Main | Time for a More Nuanced View? »

April 17, 2008

This is Not Art

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

So it was a hoax. That Yale art student didn't really collect material from repeated self-impregnations and abortions as an art project.

The New York Sun reports that she was actually doing "performance art." Key graf:

"Ms. Shvarts is engaged in performance art," a Yale spokeswoman, Helaine Klasky, said. "She stated to three senior Yale University officials today, including two deans, that she did not impregnate herself and that she did not induce any miscarriages. The entire project is an art piece, a creative fiction designed to draw attention to the ambiguity surrounding form and function of a woman’s body."

So far as I'm concerned, none of the episode was art. It was a self-promoting public relations stunt justified by Feminist gibberish.

The sad thing is that real art gets tarred by such juvenile acting-out.



posted by Donald at April 17, 2008


Do you mean that it's not art in the same way that you might say McDonald's is not food (I.e. it's art, but it's just really bad art)? Or do you mean that it doesn't belong to the same sphere of human activity as theater and literature?

I think it's strange that we're so reverent toward the lofty concept of "art," that we can't allow bad art to even be in the same category.

Or am I taking you too literally?

Posted by: JW on April 17, 2008 10:06 PM

When I see stuff like this............I begin to lose confidence that our civilization can withstand Islam. We celebrate killing babies, they celebrate making them.

Posted by: g on April 17, 2008 10:09 PM

JW -- I sorta deal with it in this rant.

In short, nowadays "art" is what a self-proclaimed "artist" calls "art." So almost anything can be art -- thus destroying the worth of the term. I suggested redefining "Art" as whatever it referred to in 1900 -- painting, sculpture, etc.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on April 17, 2008 10:34 PM

DP - isn't that kind of what the 'big picture' problem is with this wizz-bang contemporary, western, sell it faster than we can make it culture - we've destroyed all of our "terms". We've manipulated our language to the point where there's no common understanding of what a darn word means anymore. We've thought ourselves cute and witty while we stretched them to the max, and now they have no more meaning...spent.

Posted by: chris on April 17, 2008 11:06 PM

a couple of nuked cities, a major economic depression, famine, pestilence, nanobots run amok, and a gdp-shrunken demographically-slicedndiced USA cowering under the shadow of a sole superpower china and MAYBE western art will return to the basic aesthetic of embracing beauty.

'course it's not worth all that for good art so i'll just stick to the live form walking all around us in glitter rouge and short skirts.

Posted by: roissy on April 18, 2008 12:20 AM

I'm glad that artrocity was a hoax, and I sure as God hope that the artist starving the dog to death is also a hoax. If it is a hoax, it's a symptom of how bad things have gotten with artists that this kind of depravity is considered possible from them. If it isn't a hoax, well, artists have become the scum we think of them as being.

And up here in Canada a few years ago, a piece of debris and two of his buddies tortured a cat to death, filmed it, submitted the result for an art project at college...and got an A. That wasn't a hoax.

O tempora. O mores.

Posted by: PatrickH on April 18, 2008 8:15 AM

An art student working under an advisor whose own area of interest is performance art and its intersection with socio-political thinking does something that virtually defines "sophomoric" and, given that its underlying topic is sex, reproduction and abortion from an extreme feminist perspective, it gets widely reported and condemned (or, heaven help us, applauded). Well, nearly every art school or department every year has at least a few students who do something incredibly tacky, tasteless, politically or sexually provocative or otherwise dumb. And nearly every art school or department has a faculty member or two who goads them on. The sad thing is that today's art market is so tied up with a false equation in which notoriety=fame=success=MAJOR ART that these media events only serve to elevate the art students who are fortunate enough to get picked up by the media into "the next hot artists" when they should simply be ignored.

The reactionary view (let's return to the definition of art before Impressionism sent it down the slippery slope of modernism) not only tosses out the baby with the bathwater, it plays into the very phenomena. Now, instead of just being bad socio-political student art, it becomes a cause. "Fight censorship in Art!" "Fight Patri-Art!"

Just as the answer to bad political speech is good political speech, not censorship, the answer to bad art is good art. Condemning bad art as not being art is not going to make it go away, it only encourages it. Let's simply ignore it.

Posted by: Chris White on April 18, 2008 8:28 AM

It's amusing how endlessly the artistic community can entertain themselves with "shock the proletariat" art. I guess the aesthetic is hopelessly outdated. Take, for example, this piece I recently saw at the Blanton Museum. I find "what is art" art even more annoying than shocking art.

But, as when I'm tempted to rant about journalists who can't be bothered to learn basic statistics, the search for a lofty explanation is pointless. The common denominator is laziness. In the end, the woman at Yale produced nothing more than a press release. Pretty easy homework assignment.

Posted by: CyndiF on April 18, 2008 10:08 AM

Always fun learning what idiocies some art students are committing, and are being urged to commit.

As for the "is it art?" question, I have my own, maybe goofy, way of dealing with it.

I see three main things I need to deal with.

1) I live and work among bunches of people who are creative in the cultural sense. However successfully or impressively, they all "do art." Who am I to tell 'em they aren't "doing art"? Anyway, speaking purely socially, it'd be hugely inconvenient for me to dig in my heels on a regular basis about what's art and what's not.

2) I've been (ahem) very influenced by cultural anthropology. (The good parts only, of course ...) Anyway, one effect is that I tend to see everything as "culture": sports uniforms, product design, skateboard style, TV ads, fashion, videogames, t-shirts, movies ... I mean, how could you *not* accept that these are all manifestations of culture? As for whether any of these instances will make it onto the shelves of some future Metropolitan Museum ... Well, beats me, and who can predict anyway? So I don't worry about it much.

3) The "quality-judgement" thing. Has a given work made it, quality-wise, to the point where it deserves to be awarded the "art" merit badge? This is a common use of the word art too -- a given thingy isn't just an example of culture, it's a good one, therefore we reward it with the word "art." As for this aspect of the "art" thing ... Well, I recognize that many people find it a fun and rewarding discussion, and I'm happy enough to agree that it's a big part of the larger culture-discussion. All that said, it isn't a discussion I'm generally eager to take much part in.

So my own non-solution to the conundrum is to take it all as "art," be open and frank and interested about personal responses to encounters with art, and let the quality-chips and value-judgments fall where they may. History will decide -- but I'll probably be dead by the time it does, and then, 50 years later, history may well change its mind. So why should I worry it overmuch?

OK, it ain't exactly a solution. But practically speaking it helps me get through the day, and finally I don't know if I'm looking for anything more than that.

On the other hand, getting steamed about and ridiculing art-school outrages is endlessly fun and enjoyable, and probably necessary too in a social-function way. It's a genuine part of the "culture" thang too.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on April 18, 2008 10:56 AM

A few years ago, didn't a British artist make earrings out of the skeletons of real fetuses? I think there was talk of criminal prosecution, but I don't recall if anything was done.

In the Canadian case, I don't remember if the student got an A, but he and he collaborators were prosecuted. I believe the school refused to expel him though. He gave the impression of being mentally ill in very ugly way.

The whole art-as-theory stuff has the effect of moving power in the art world decisively toward the curators, that is, non-artists and away from craft and skill toward PR.

Roissy, you're too optimistic. Once a culture has slid far enough into decadence, it can't recover simply by recognising that the slide has been a bad thing.

Posted by: Intellectual Pariah on April 18, 2008 11:00 AM

A quick googling turns up a Canadian artist named Rick Gibson, who was indeed fined by a British court for displaying fetus-skull earrings. (Funny, in my memory it was woman artist.) He also made earrings from freeze-dried fetuses. He's not the only artist to incorporate real fetus parts in art objects, though.

Maybe this doesn't different so much the plasticised-corpse exhibit that was making the rounds last year... but that's a different discussion.

Posted by: Intellectual Pariah on April 18, 2008 11:12 AM

As "art," it's pathetic. As a practical joke on the sputtering classes, it's brilliant.

Posted by: JewishAtheist on April 18, 2008 5:28 PM

The only reason you think it's a joke is because you don't get it.

Posted by: vanderleun on April 18, 2008 6:30 PM

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