By Karen Mannino Monday, November 18th, 2013
The bright April sun made the pale pavement painful to look at. Four or five of us sat on the steps of the amphitheater squinting. A student in a colorful skirt sat a step or so above us and held open a picture book from the children’s section of our college library. She read the sweet, soothing story aloud to us. I don’t remember what it was. What I do remember is the contrast of the other sounds around us. I had to concentrate to keep myself from looking away from the book. Behind my head, dozens of glass bottles were popping and shattering against the concrete wall of the art building. My shoulders were hunched and flinching, waiting to feel a shard of glass bury itself in my back. I saw one, out of the corner of my eye, bounce past my foot. The reader kept her pace, undisturbed, turning the book so we could see all of the pictures.
This was one of several projects that my design class did the last week of my undergraduate career. Painters from many centuries create visual illusions. Figurative sculptors create an imitation of life. My 3D design class was creating an artificial experience. I don’t know if anyone has ever experienced quite what we did naturally, but it was certainly an interesting thing to simulate. Our assignment was to design in four dimensions, a piece of art lasting about three minutes.
Christian was right, when he wrote on Wednesday that much depends on how one defines art. Anything defined so broadly as “self expression” must be very common. It is only practical to censor art. There are simply some self expressions that we need not tolerate, much less honor, in public. The flaw of art is pride. We insist that anything can be art if we say so. We also insist that art is some kind of god, exempt from little things like good manners. Well, it can’t be both. Something can, however, be art, and a heinous crime at the same time. That is far more likely, if we are going to exempt it from civility.
We have a reverence for the word art. We don’t want to call something art unless it is somehow elevated and moving. I think this is a dangerous attitude. Art is that thing that humans do, and lower animals do not. We are little images of God trying vainly to imitate His creative power. Art is the product of those clumsy attempts. Most of it involves shocking amounts of plagiarism. I have a BA in art and I am pretty sure there is nothing sacred about art in and of itself. It is special only because all humanity has a need for it in some form. It seems to come with the rational soul, and that is to be celebrated. But so does math, and no one worries about math censorship. I almost think we need another word to talk about the really profound human attempts at creations that move us to see eternal truths through new eyes. I guess you could call that good art. All the rest that falls short isn’t necessarily bad (most of it is just boring, honestly). It has it’s own private purpose for the artist. The devil can also corrupt it until art is truly bad and evil. It is much easier to do this when art is a false god. This is when children are sacrificed on a artist’s personal alter.
My three minute involved cheap pie tins, a falling thirds chord progression, and rice. Was it art? I’d say yes. It was a created experience. Boring to most people, unless they had never heard Pacholbel’s Cannon in D before. Not nearly as memorable as my class mate’s projects involving broken glass and children’s literature. But it was an imperfect attempt at imitation of God the creator. It certainly was not fine art.
Much of the art that is venerated in the larger world right now is about creating an artificial experience. Another bunch is about the artist’s particular experience in making the art. It all ranges from boring, to insulting, to evil. But I’d say it’s all art. Creative minds love a challenge. And often it is the restrictions that spark creativity the most. It is possible for a generation or artist to emerge from this rather murky environment and use the creative skills we’ve been playing with to create experiences of truth and beauty. But only if our culture demands that art be subjected to the same rules a civility and common public decency under which most other uniquely human endeavors flourish.
Karen Mannino earned her BA in studio art from Aquinas College in 2012. Since then she has been trying to find a place to paint in her house where her brother won’t be in danger of ingesting turpentine. She is also sleep deprived. But she was glad that Christian’s post got her thinking enough to have something to type about today. Thanks Christian.