There’s a saying about putting your best foot forward, but I am waffling about just which one that is. A proper entry should be full of rhetorical flourishes, binary fluffing, and one-line stunners, followed by a thoughtful and redemptive conclusion; think This American Life minus the quirky background music. At very least it should be better than ad copy, i.e. chic words surrounding some sexy, semi-interesting image, that I’ve dredged up from the bowels of the Internet. (See above left)
But I digress, already.
I am here to write about our expectations when it comes to seeing art, and the standards we set when setting foot into a gallery or museum. They would be better classified as assumptions, or the manifestation of our taste, or, the desire to be entertained and have our minds bowled over by the sheer genius of every artwork we see. Fat chance. I can count the number of times art has blown my mind on one hand. This is not to say I haven’t seen things that are great, simply that I’ve only wept, or fallen to my knees, a handful of times. This is a good thing for a variety of reasons, the least of which is that it’s hard to explain to museum guards why you’re sobbing. It’s also on par with my experience of similar forms of culture–literature, film, and music–from which I am rewarded comparably.
Time to get down to brass tacks.
It’s unreasonable to expect every art object we see to be nirvana inducing. Here’s to high expectations, but when they render one a kitten crushing curmudgeon, or induce a white-knuckled retreat, than there’s a problem. I read a lot of griping about art. The default position, a.k.a. “my way or the highway”, is some form of: it’s crap, contemporary art is a sham, nobody has any ‘skill’ anymore, you call that ‘art’?, yada yada. (It seems everyone knows exactly what ‘art’ is supposed to be except me.) Contemporary art has not had the luxury of being sifted by history. When we enter a gallery assuming we’re going to see the historical highlight reel we do the things we’re actually seeing a fair amount of injustice. It ignores seeing things for what they are in exchange for what we want them to be, or think they should be. Time to move beyond the fear of being disappointed.
Maybe I am being overly simplistic, naïve, or worse yet, optimistic. One foot at a time…
Bad things are unavoidable, but they’re ultimately harmless, and a small price to pay to find the occasionally mind blowing.