Tuesday, September 16, 2008

An age old question...or is it?

What is art?

I know I've been promising a post on my trip to the Metropolitan Museum for quite a while now (about three weeks?!!), but now seems like a better time than before as in light of current events it seems more appropriate...
I saw many things at the museum, in my opinion, some good, some awe inspiring, and others, well, not so good. Since my visit I have had many conversations with different people about art, the classic question (these days) 'what is art?', along with some very interesting perspectives...
One of the main things I keep hearing is that art today 'is a reflection of our times'..really? hm....interesting...
Yes, on one hand, it is I suppose... people are inspired by different things, driven by different (although these days I sometimes think, lesser) ideals. But are our lives so gloomy and lifeless as so much of this 'modern' art reflects? All I can think is that if this kind of art is so highly acclaimed as a reflection of our times, and if this idea is drilled into our minds enough, we will in turn believe it as true.

Tracy Emin's 'My Bed' 1998

So, lets take a look at Tracy Emin's 'My Bed', what some, including those who pick work for the highly acclaimed Turner Prize, consider an amazing piece of art. Yes, it's her bed. Condoms, menstrual period stains, dirty underwear, cigarette butts, empty bottles of booze, and more, and all of which to show us the days of her "suicidal depression" and "nervous breakdown" brought on by relationship difficulties.
Now, lets think about this....'a reflection of our times'.... suicidal depression? And this isn't gloomy right? I mean, with all of our advancements in technology and our improved quality of living, this kind of idea is what we are today?
I let you think on that...while I take a few steps back...

Michelangelo's Ceiling in the Sistine Chapel , 1508-1512. And his 'The Last Judgment' which spans the entire back wall behind the alter, 1535-1541.

Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel. Rather entertainingly, Michelangelo resented painting this 12,000 square foot chapel ceiling between 1508 and 1512, as he believed his work only served the Pope's need for grandeur! Nevertheless, this work is still viewed as his greatest.
And so often I hear that this traditional art is 'outdated' 'of the past' and 'irrelevant in today's world'.....but hold on a second, take a look at the Sistine Chapel...see it's light? It's hope? It's love? You can see the passion in it, the calm peace and delicacy...
And yet, here we are in the 21st Century with nothing left of these things to show in our art? We've come so far and yet have we become so devoid and clueless as to what beauty is? What love and hope are?
From what I gather, most people don't believe these precious things are a 'reflection of our times' at all...what a terribly sad thought.

So, I live and work in New York City, and not a day has passed this week without a discussion on the economic crisis we are being faced with, since the fall on Wall Street, the city has been a buzz with talk of it...
And if art is truly a reflection of our times, I think we just got this idea drilled in further than we imagined. The rich, well... they stay rich. Not a surprise is it? But then I have to ask the question, is art a reflection of our times, or is it in fact, just a reflection of the times for the very, very wealthy?
Think about that.....

Well it's no shock that England, for example, will be, and is, feeling the pinch coming from downtown NY. Oh, the joys of international banking.
But this week in London, the British artist, Damien Hurst, had his two day Sotheby's auction of his last two years of work he called "Beautiful Inside My Head Forever". Not only did he do well, but he in fact broke the record of sale for one artist, the last being in 1993 for 88 works by Pablo Picasso.
So, as it seems, some still have a few spare million to drop on some formaldehyde filled animals, sheep hearts, butterfly wings, spin paintings, unicorns, doves, diamonds and cigarette butts.

Now here's my suggestion to anyone who has just found themselves in hard times, or is feeling the pinch quite harshly....and no, I can't keep my sweet sarcasm at bay here (but no offense to those who are hurting)......
Step one. Get connected. Find someone with tons of money who hasn't heard of Damien Hurst (although this may be rare) or at least someone who wouldn't know a knock off if it hit them. (hey, if some people fall for fake Louis Vuitton handbags, why not a cow or two?)

Step two. Find a cow. Preferably a white one, we have to keep a little consistency here. And preferably already dead (no need to be inhumane here). Then gather about 120 of your friends and acquaintances.

Step three. Build a tank, get some formaldehyde, and gold paint. Yes, it's not real gold, but who's going to go swimming in a tank of formaldehyde to find out anyways?

Step four. Rake in that dough. A cool $18.3 million should do it.

Top seller, "The Golden Calf" Sold for $18.3 Million. Damien's take on the Biblical story of the golden calf - a cautionary tale of worshipping false idols....yes indeed Damien...

(Step five. Smoke lots of cigarettes while you and your 120 friends do this - seems there's another $3.2 million in that) If only I'd known that earlier, I would have been saving all of mine too - instead I flick them into the street. Brings a whole new meaning to throwing money away doesn't it?

"The Abyss" Sold for $3.2 Million

Oh yea, and don't forget to ask the Angles to help....

"The Anatomy of an Angel" Estimated between $2-3 Million

And then Pigs might fly...

"Pigs Might Fly" Estimated $1.39 Million

Now Jumping back to my visit to the Metropolitan Museum for a moment, I wandered around the galleries for quite a while that day. And on turning one corner, I found myself looking at an old familiar face.
Hello Miss. Tiger Shark...How have you been? Oh, not doing so well hu?
I suppose it's not really surprising, is it? How long can you keep a shark in a tank without it showing signs of, well, decomposition?
Hedge Fund Billionaire Steven A. Cohen snapped up this little lady for a sweet $8 Million, and has now kindly lent it to the Metropolitan Museum for three years, where she will sit, in a room almost entirely by herself, by a window while New York City and Central Park spread out beyond her. Her she is, Damien Hurst's "Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living".

Female Tiger Shark in Formaldehyde, "Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living"

Of course, Damien didn't make the same mistake twice. And while this lady wasn't injected with formaldehyde, he made sure his new Tiger Shark "The Kingdom", which was in the recent Sotheby's auction, was fully pumped up with it. And yes, that sold too.

Now, having said all of this, it's not like I've spent my life sitting on my butt forming my opinions of art...I have been out there and seen it with my own eyes. I've been to Sistine Chapel in Rome and looked up at Michelangelo's ceiling, wandered through the corridors of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy. Stood in Paris' Musee d'Orsay, famous for it's collection of Impressionist art, I've walked through the rooms of the Louvre and looked onto Botticelli's "Birth of Venus" and "La Primavera" (when they were there). I have been lucky enough to see some of the most famous art and architecture man has ever created.

Now my experiences have not excluded the modern. In 1997 I went to Charles Saatchi's "Sensation" exhibition, where I had my first meeting with Damien Hurst's first Tiger Shark, hence why our meeting at the Metropolitan Museum was familiar. Back then too I also saw his other works, like his pickled sheep and sliced pig.. I also saw Tracy Emin's, "Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-1995" which was a tent with all the names of those she's slept with sewn into the sides of it. And Marcus Harvey's depiction of child killer Myra Hindley, "Myra" a portrait made up of children's handprints, which caused huge controversy. Myra Hindley herself even wrote a letter from jail, asking for it's removal from the exhibition.
The "Sensation" exhibition was Saatchi's show of his mission in collecting art from young unknown artists, now commonly known as YBA's (Young British Artists), all noted for their 'shock tactics' and 'wild living', and most of which had attended Goldsmiths College in London. It was at the "Freeze" exhibition in 1988 where Damien Hurst and Charles Saatchi first met, Damien at the time was only in his second year at Goldsmiths.

Now I want to be careful here, I'm not claiming art is from one extreme to another. I am fully aware of all of the art in between these two ideas. And I also want to mention, I am not aiming for the eradication of all modern art, I'm not that naive. The general concept of art being 'of the times' has it's value, my point is that why are we being told that our times are full of vulgarity, filth, sex, lies, murder and death - without any of their opposites available too?
Has our hope, love, and morality become such a mute point in our lives that they simply do not exist anymore? Do we hold these things in such little value that there is no point in addressing them any further?
And if this 'art of the times' is just a reflection of the times of the rich and wealthy who purchase a pickled cow for $18 million, why must I adopt those same values as my own?

Just like Saatchi intended, works of 'shock' are now what makes the money, set by his own standards and filled pockets. So is 'shock' now a part of our everyday life? Is a long lasting emotion, dream, belief, inspiration now simply seen as outdated?
I live my life in a manner conducive to the life and future I want and intend to have. I am attracted to works such as Botticelli's 'Birth of Venus', because they reflect the values I have and apply to my own life. Grace, Femininity, Faith, Beauty, Morality, Peace, Love, Devotion...after all, isn't art supposed to be an inspiration to us all?

Well, to wrap up, over the next few posts I will be showing you, and explaining the art that I find such an inspiration, and most of all, what I believe is the art 'of my times', and perhaps should be ours too....

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