A Poor Excuse for Art

7 Jan
Modern art thrives on shock value and controversy.  Fans of modern art adore bizarre exhibits.  The rest of us go home quietly disappointed. We are disappointed because the art was not beautiful. We are quiet because it is gauche to admit that we want art to be pretty–not just capable of provoking thought and emotion.
When I see art, I yearn to say, “Ah, I would love to hang that in my living room.”
Rusted wire mesh fails to fulfill my plebian criteria for art. So do bathroom fixtures and paintings of suffering people done in shades of brown.  Also offensive to my proletariat tastes are: broken objects, erotic images, and toys posing as sculpture. Come on! A bunch of rubber balls in a bowl?  They call that art? — Chris

I recently viewed “Harlequin Coat” by the artist Orlan who (for some reason) requires only one name.  Her art left me feeling dissatisfied.  The floor of the exhibit was covered in colorful triangles in which the words “secularism,”  multiculturalism,” “recycled,”  “suture,” and “hybridization” were written.  Clear plastic chairs were arranged in a circle around the room.  Upon each was draped an outfit of clothing, recycled from Orlan’s wardrobe.   A harlequin garment was displayed in the center.  On the walls, hovering sideways, were pictures of people, some partially dressed, with their backs turned.  Rather than the intended message, the one I received was of “disembodiment.” A video that accompanied the exhibit displayed text including the words “blood, skin, flesh, bones, nerves.”  This gory sensationalism is a poor excuse for art.

Harlequin Coat exhibit

Orlan is best known for earlier performances in which she received elective surgery, being operated upon and altered in appearance, using her own body as a medium of sculpture.  (She currently sports two strangely positioned cheek implants — one over each eyebrow.)  Eager photographers attended her surgeries, where Orlan wore designer clothes, smiled and seemed to enjoy sharing the whole grisly spectacle.  As part of “Harlequin Coat,” she arranged to have some of her own cells biopsied for the exhibit, but I was mercifully unaware of this fact until after I left.

Orignially uploaded by pashasha on Flickr.com

Orlan with face implants.

When self-imposed mutilation becomes the vehicle to an artist’s fame, is there any doubt that the actual art will fail to live up to the hype?  Without the presence of Orlan, herself, in her teased, black and white Troll Doll hairdo and freakish features, the art failed to impress me. Her odd, ugly exhibit reminded me of a hospital room in which patients disrobe prior to surgery.  In real life, most patients are gripped by fear; many are fighting for their lives.  It is pathetic to see Orlan twist what is usually a medical crisis into an opportunity to push her political viewpoints.  If it’s sensationalism you’re looking for, it’s better to watch an episode of “Nip Tuck.”  At least it’s not pretentious. — Chris

Ryan:    How is it that people are willing to go to such drastic measures just to be recognized as an artist? Artists like Orlan feel like it’s their duty to force-feed us their opinions through twisted, junky, or sometimes just plain uncreative artwork. In Kansas City, at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the realistic pieces were breathtaking in their attention to detail and their beautiful colors.  Much of the abstract art was gorgeous as well.  What shocked me was the contemporary art downstairs.

In the lower level, some of the paintings and sculptures were almost as wonderful as those upstairs.  However, most looked like something a college kid would throw together with junk that he or she found in his or her attic. Whether or not this is what the artists actually did, their art seemed to leap off of the canvas, and not in a mystifying way, but more like a serial killer jumping out of dark shadows to snatch a victim.

When one feels the need to shock onlookers to draw attention to one’s art, that is when one begins to fail as an artist. Orlan, with her freaky cheek implants on her forehead, proves that people aren’t impressed by “in your face” art, only quality art.   Mona Lisa, perhaps the most famous piece of art of all time, is memorable for her kind expression and gentle features set on a backdrop of mysterious foggy woodland. This effect would have had much less impact if she had sprouted forehead growths (like Orlan) or was sitting in the middle of a massacre.  Gore is a bore.

Modern art suffers from other problems. While some paintings are lush in creativity, others bear resemblance to a paint swatch.   Is it necessary that I point this out to the world?  A white rectangle set in a black background is about as interesting as listening to Uncle Vernon talk about his hemorrhoids. I’ve seen my younger cousin make better splatter art when he threw up on my aunt. At least THAT was entertaining.

Although Orlan receives most of the disparagement in this article, she is only a drop in the sea of artists deserving such criticism. Another display at the Nelson Atkins art museum featured a piece of art that looked like someone had dropped peas on the floor the night before ,decided to magnify them, and set them on a backdrop of sky blue. 

I think it bears resemblance to a flying peas monster.

This piece of art has detail and dimension and all of those great things, but it lacks two properties of great art–purpose and common sense. To me it seems a shame that an artist would spend his time painting flying vegetables mushed up to resemble nothing at all. This art serves no practical purpose, for it does nothing but catch the attention for a split second then send the viewer on his way. Besides, why would anyone in his or her right mind even bother painting something like this? While I am not completely opposed to calling a work of art “Untitled,” the artist must realize that if he or she doesn’t even know what to call a piece of art, it becomes bunk, leaving less of an impression on the viewer and an unsure void in the artist’s mind.

In short, it isn’t the modern art that bothers me as much as the modern artist. When social commentary and political paintings aren’t enough to keep art students busy, perhaps then they resort to un-realistic, seemingly multi-dimensional paintings. While not ALL modern art deserves to be railed against, some paintings are just frustrating to look at and whatever goes through the artist’s mind, it most often fails to be realized by the viewer. The artist’s own arrogance, when trying to prove something, is almost infuriating. When an Average Joe sees the piece, hardly ever does he realize the “message,” and then the artist has succeeded in making a fool out of him. Not everyone can be an artist, but most schmucks can be modern artists.-Ryan

Now who can tell me which one of these is a paint swatch, and which one is the work of art, Untitled No. 11, 1963, by Mark Rothko?


(Paint Swatch)


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