Taken from Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ Untitled (Public Opinion), 1991.
On a noisy bus ride home…
VJ: (deadpan) Eh, can I borrow $5,000?
K: Whatever for? Do I look like I’m loaded with cash?
VJ: Borrow from your dad lah, I want to buy shares…
K: Huh? You want to buy what, chairs?
VJ: (bowled over in laughter) Why do I want to buy chairs? Not unless they’re musical!
During one of our heart-to-heart talks…
VJ: You need to stop being so defensive. You’re always hiding in this shell – I want to peel the layers away and sit in the shell with you.
K: My shell is too small, wouldn’t fit both of us…
VJ: Buy a bigger one lah!
K: Eh, you think I’m a hermit crab, is it?
A thing is not beautiful because it is beautiful, it is beautiful because one likes it.
And that may very well be true. We’ve arrived at a time where art comes in form of a dead shark disintegrating in formaldehyde…
The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living
…lights that go on and off every five seconds in an empty room
Work No. 227, the lights going on and off
…and an unmade bed littered with cigarette stubs and used condoms on its side.
While you might wrinkle your nose in distaste, these artists have been nominated for the prestigious Turner Prize at one point in their lives and have made critically acclaimed works in the last two decades.
You might wonder, do artists these days just have a tendency to out-shock and out-mortify one another, that contemporary works no longer exude a quiet beauty about them? Art school grads are equipped with knowledge to better understand conceptual works like these, but are prone to knowing too much to fully appreciate them. What about the man on the street?
I have no qualms admitting that I thrive on discussions on Art. A subject that has much to debate on, it is this very basis that makes discourse on this elusive ‘A’ word, that will never quench my thirst.
Art is undoubtedly subjective and it is this quality that instills fear in many who believe there should be a distinct right or wrong, black or white. This grey area confuses and Art makes no apologies for that.
A recent conversation with a colleague about Art gave birth to the idea of this series of blog posts – Art for the Uninitiated. I will not claim to be an expert in Art, but I want to believe Art can be shared and appreciated by all. So in my attempt to unravel the mystery behind this elusive term, these blog posts may serve as a guide to understand and perhaps these casual writings will pave way for discussion.
So to all who shrink at the mere sight of the letters A-R-T, let’s replace this term with something less intimidating. Like, hmm…Cherry. Yes, the fruit – small, fleshy, juicy with a tough seed in its core.
First question, what does one have to see/feel/think when looking at a piece of Art…I mean, Cherry?
“It was one of the most formative moments in my life. I was sitting in a cold, drab Oxford lecture room in my first year of university waiting for my prof, Marxist thinker Erik Swyngedouw. He finally burst into the room with a cup of coffee in his hand and asked in his distinctive Belgian accent, “Can you see this coffee?” The obvious answer was, “Yes, of course I can see this cup.” What, I wondered, was this guy getting at?
But it soon became clear that this wasn’t going to be my usual dazed and drowsy experience wallowing at the back of the lecture theatre. “You can see the coffee, but can you see the fields of Guatemala? Can you see the EU tariffs? Can you see the coffee workers’ pay slips?” I soon realized what he was getting at. The world as it is didn’t just happen. It is the way it is because of people, because of laws, because of attitudes.”
– Luke Sherlock, Oxford UK, Adbusters Issue #85, Sep/Oct 2009
I’m starting to think the basis of our relationship can be summed into two distinct parts – threads of emails and long endless walks.
One keeps our hands busy as fingers dance merrily across the keyboard; spelling words that bequeath a language that only we understand with our hearts. The other relies on the rhythmic strides; shirts reeking of perspiration, we talk of bicycle frames and museum-hopping. And we keep walking still.
There is that long-drawn debate on “What is Art?” that has left many bewildered. It is easy to point out that a water colour painting of Singapore’s river scene – soothing hues of blue painted placidly over canvas and realistic portrayals of bumboats and people that reflect the buzzing river life – as a great piece of art.
But is it?
Should art exist only to be aesthetically pleasing?
A recent trip to 8Qsam (Singapore Art Museum’s contemporary art wing) with my mother further dawned upon me how misguided we are when it comes to art.
Art should, in my opinion, provoke. It should effectively leave you questioning – vitalized by the stream of ideas you take home with you. Whatever medium the artist chose to convey his/her message, looking at art is an experience that only you can solely keep.
I once read “Whatever You Think, Think Opposite” by Paul Arden. In the book, Arden recounts how a man travelled to an art exhibition and ended up hating every single moment of it.He lamented how terrible the art was and the exhibition wasted his time.
However, one could put it across that because the art affected him so greatly, it was proof that the work was powerful enough to leave such a lasting impression on him.