Thursday, December 09, 2004

Answers more easily felt than given

Whilst voting for Dr. Charles, I found this blog: "Thinking About Art." I've been discouraged by descriptions of the Turner competition, so I decided to search the blog for some insights. I found no references to "Prozac art" on the site. That's a relief. (I'm still not sure what "Prozac art" is.) There's an interesting comment thread on the site, asking "Who decides what is great art, and what is not?" I like this comment:

The value of art is like a glass of water. Minimal in a 4 star restaurant. Life giving in the desert. What do you need at the time...
Again, the importance of context.

That's partly what's frustrating about the Turner competition. I don't understand the context of the entries. The Guardian's description reminds me of Robert Benchley's piece about a "Sur-Realiste" painting that the French Academy refused to hang, ostensibly because "it didn't have enough paint on it." (In fact, he eerily presages the current crop of Turner entries.) Of the painting, he states,
"A great many people resent the fried egg in the upper left-hand corner. They claim that it looks too much like the sun. On the other hand, sun worshipers claim that it looks too much like a fried egg...The laughing snake in the lower left-hand corner (is) merely a representation of the spirit of laughing snakes, and has nothing to do with Reality..."
"The crux of the whole picture, however, lies in the fireman who holds the center of the stage. Here the artist has become almost photographic, even to the fire bell which is ringing in the background...As for the silk hat, the ladder, the rather unpleasant unattached face, and the arrow and target, they belong to another picture which got placed by mistake on top of this one when the paint was still wet. (The artist) feels rather upset about this, but hopes that you won't notice it."

Yes, parody is rather too easy. But some art almost begs for parody. How much are they actually self-parody? Of modern art, Gombrich asks, "(W)hat are these works meant to stand for? The answer is more easily felt than given, for such explanations so easily deteriorate into sham profundity or downright nonsense." Some Surrealists "were driven by their frantic wish to become childlike into the most astonishing antics of calculated silliness." Others consulted Freud for clues to the primitive mind. "The result may look monstrous to an outsider, but if he discards his prejudice and lets his fancy play, he may come to share the artist's strange dream..."

In this spirit, I will reconsider the Turner entries...and I invite anyone who's seen them to send their comments. Meanwhile, I'll stumble along with my pencils and paints...
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