Thursday, July 17, 2008

Art School at the Sherman Foundation: Museums are for Amateurs

With practice you can have an "art experience" anywhere. You don't need a museum to do it. Museums are for amateurs, places filled with objects so over the top in their expression of artiness that even tourists and people with no interest in or knowledge of the arts to carve out a moment for an aesthetic reflection.

Art isn't about works of art and the lives of artists. Everyone gets that wrong. Art is about the viewer and their lives. Art is about what happens in someone's heart and mind when they are having having an "art experience".

There are so many "art books" made, too many, and too many written about the wrong things. Too much time is spent spilling ink on the formal qualities of works of art and on the lives of artists. This misplaced focus is precisely why people have such a poor understanding of what art is and why there is almost no common, accepted understanding of the social/cultural role of art. This is demonstrated clearly by the battles over public funding for the arts which I personally am against. Our nations legislators are just about the last group of people that should have an active role in defining culture.

A good working definition of creativity is looking at what everyone else looks at and seeing something else. Defamiliarization is a fancy way of saying just that, making new and curious again things that we see so often that we don't really "think" about them anymore.

Art is about refreshing our abilities to see, hear and think. It's about turning off autopilot and getting back into the hot-seat of experience. Do you really need Christo or the MOMA to find interesting things to look at and think about.

The stark austerity of the museum experience is about creating focus. A better way of thinking about a museums intended purpose is that it's a theater for viewers to perform an art experience in. They put works of art into these otherwise empty space so you can remove yourself from the hustle and bustle of the world and try and have an undistracted moment to "do art". In New York this doesn't really work out as intended. There are so many people milling about and bumping into each other it's hard to have an art experience there. I refuse to go to NY museums on weekends. A better strategy would be to hide the pieces of art all over the city. That way you would never be too far away from a work that you can use to have a little "art moment" for yourself.

I went flying with a friend in his Cessna 182 (a small, 4 seat light aircraft) last weekend. There are several very cool things about flying in those types of aircrafts. First, there is the physical sensation. It's a much more raw experience than flying in a commercial jet. You feel the turbulence and hear the engine and the wind. It's physical.

Second, is the view. You're flying at a lower altitude than commercial aircrafts do. It's a different, fascinating and defamiliarizing view of the world. There are a whole set of perceptual and conceptual shifts that take place.

These are a few interesting observations that struck me as flew over Dutchess County.

Shade is what we call shadows when they're so big they engulf us. Clouds cast cloud-shaped shadows on the ground. On the ground it's just the immersive experience of shade. There are lots of naming and perception changes that occur with distance and the shift from direct experience to the observation of phenomenon. What appear to be landscape features seen from the cockpit of the plane would be called terrain if I were walking on the ground and had to climb some of those hills.

This is a tracking shot of the Cessna's shadow that I took as we did practice landings last Sunday.

From the cockpit the houses and cars look like toys. This is combination of the effects of distance and vantage point. When you're flying in a place, you're in a sense standing over the world as if it was a model train set. It's as if the details like window shutters, individual sheets of aluminum siding, car doorhandles and windshield wipers evaporate and vanish into a collapsing dimension.

Art isn't about the works and museums and the tumultuous lives of artists, it's about making conscious those shifts in perception and making reappear the details that are lost in the course of daily life into the collapsing dimensions of mind.

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