why you should engage with contemporary art

An artist called Duke Riley has recently been releasing 2000 pigeons with LED lights attached to their legs across the New York skyline at sunset. It is an art show called “Fly by Night” and the way the New York masses were to experience this art was to go and watch it for themselves.

Pigeon art 1

Pigeon art

Is it actually art, in your view? What exactly is the “piece” of art; is it the photos, or the show?

It is a fascinating project and must be a true spectacle. To me, both the show and the photos are art. They’re all-encompassing to represent a creative endeavor: a work of art.

I have heard many folk express their confusion about the credence of some of the works of art in the Tate Modern. How is a canvas with a slash in it taking up gallery space in one of the most frequented art galleries in London?

Let me ask you this, how open-minded are you when you stroll through an art gallery? How much are you willing to engage with a piece rather than just appreciate its beauty or the skill involved? Would you just dismiss Fly by Night as sensationalist nonsense? Or reflect on how the artist has turned a flock of ‘rats-with-wings’, a pest of New York, into something beautiful. A bird that is often overlooked has been taken out of its usual context and presented as a living thing that has a useful skill and ability to return from whence it came. This is an ability that has been utilised many times over, in many stories of years gone by, before technology made them redundant.

The artist who did one slash in a canvas would have invested a lot of time and thought into the idea behind that slash. His name was Lucio Fontana and when he started making holes in canvases in the 1940s, no one else was.

Fontana would have thought through the canvas size and the direction and composition of the slash on the canvas. He did many in this series, some with paint, some without, some with more than one slash, some with just one. Did you know there was probably a word written on the back?

Yes, you could slash through a canvas. But you wouldn’t be the first to do it with the intention of exhibiting it, like this artist was. You wouldn’t be the first to question how one can create with a new process. How one can deconstruct a revered artistic medium. How one can change what was intended to be pictorial into a potential sculpture. How one can explore the complexity of destroying in order to create. How one can depict pain in a way that enables you to truly feel the sharp cut in all its rawness.

You would just be slashing a canvas to prove a point.

On the Tate Modern’s webpage about Fontana’s piece, “Spacial Concept ‘Waiting’”, they quote Fontana in an interview as saying: “‘my discovery was the hole and that’s it. I am happy to go to the grave after such a discovery’ (quoted in Whitfield, p.12).”

Respect, Lucio.

The first time I remember my hackles starting to rise hearing someone talk about contemporary art was in a restaurant with some friends many moons ago.

“I could paint that!” A non-arty-type exclaimed.

It was a simple painting. One that looked like the kind they sell prints of in a furniture store, bought to match an interior. But no matter how simple, no matter even why it’s produced or purchased, someone has created that and you may be able to copy it. But to have painted it from nothing. To have created it, a unique piece of art, from a blank canvas…

No, I doubt you could have produced even a composition as simple as that.

I didn’t like it. And you don’t have to like all art. You don’t even have to ‘get’ all of it. But don’t be too quick to dismiss it.

Art doesn’t have to be beautiful, refined, complex, or a certain medium to be able to touch your soul.

Art can engage with you on a deep level. If you are willing to engage with it first. It can help you confront or understand your unique personhood and perspective. And most importantly, it can help you engage with another person’s. Thus enabling you to achieve that wonderful and often elusive human capacity to empathise.

Image from qz.com

The image of this sculpture has been circulating social media during the past few weeks. Have you seen it? Have you been told it is a representation of grief?

I don’t want to burst your bubble, but it was not intended to be.

The idea and process behind it is interesting, read about it here. But it has powerfully impacted people who are suffering the pain of bereavement because it unknowingly expresses the weight of grief. The physical pain and “hunching over” one can feel. The need to self-preserve and hide. A friend of mine, who is on her own journey through grief, said she couldn’t look at it for long. The connection it evoked to what is felt and has been felt along the road was intense and, in the end, overwhelming. I could certainly relate to that.

It is important to see a mirror image of what we are feeling sometimes. We need to see it to remember that we are feeling it and must, at times, face it. Head on. And as I have said, we need to see and understand what others are feeling too. Especially if we have never felt it ourselves. In reference to this sculpture, my sister-in-law so beautifully wrote:

“Bereavement is a whole world of its own, but I think things that try to help those outside to understand fosters a more focused and authentic compassion.”

Our capacity to create is beautiful and is to be revered.

Even if it involves cutting cows in half…

1 comment

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  1. thesmilingpilgrim

    Our capacity to create is beautiful and is to be revered.

    The amount of masterpieces humanity has created is awe inspiring.

    So many styles and signature marks. Absolutely amazing!

    Liked by 1 person

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