Sunday, September 24, 2023

On Art 

“I just liked the look of it and thought it was funny to put it on the wall.”

Again this year I passed on Toronto's all night art thing, Nuit Blanche. It used to be an important date on my calendar until I just grew tired of the crowds. I particularly grew tired of crowds at any interactive art piece, where mostly the audience participation involved taking photos of themselves to post on social media. That's not to say I no longer think about art. What I wrote below was written in the café at the Art Gallery of Ontario after an afternoon of ambling through its galleries.

The more the merrier.
More is not always better. Much of modernity is a Minimalist act (in spite of maximum consumerism), famously encapsulated by the credo, "less is more". Sometimes art is nothing more than a moment but there is also a lot of art where there are so many ideas packaged so deeply into a single piece that no idea emerges at all. Is a work the piece itself, the performance during its creation or the personal essay that accompanies it?

So much self examination.
There seems to be so much discussion of the uniqueness of hybrid lives (I am indigenous-, Polish-, gay-, straight-, Canadian etc). I understand the language of the "multi-hyphenate", but sometimes I think some artists should understand that the search for their identity, be it a stage of their life or a life-long quest, while a personal interest, just may not be that interesting to other people. They should also accept that lack of interest isn't a rejection of anyone's identity. Sometimes your audience isn't rejecting you, they are just saying your journey of self-discovery is boring. We are all multiples of ourselves (mothers, sisters, professionals, friends). Self-expression has self-examination built-in, no? Can you have one without the other? In any respect, it feels like there might be too many "journeys of identity" taking up space in our limited galleries. 

While Colonization is often considered where a white culture overwhelms, suppresses, destroys or seeks to control an indigenous one, it shouldn’t be forgotten that within Europe there are many cases of white colonizers attempting to erase neighbouring white populations. (Russian v Ukrainian for example). Not to mention the definition and inclusion of "whiteness" has historically changed. At one time Toronto was seen as an Anglo-Saxon Protestant town excluding all other groups, namely Jewish, Catholic, Irish, or Italian, who would all eventually be considered some flavour of white. Basically, it's good to know the time, place and context of any art you are consuming to understand whether it is an act of colonization or a reaction to it.

On exoticism
We sometimes “other” those different than ourselves both in a discriminating way or in a fetishized way. Both are objectifying. The art of any given culture, but particularly the art in European institutions is not just evidence to this but a map to what was considered "exotic" or "other". I like to wonder what caveats we will have to give contemporary art in 50 years. 

What does it mean?
Art does not have to mean something. Why can’t there simply be a formal exploration of image or sound or whatever? I have a paper shooting target framed and hanging on my wall and I’ve been asked “What does it mean?” My guess is this question comes from an over interpretation of art from Rembrandt to Pollock. If you ever were shown art in a class in school, the teacher probably read in their course syllabus that this art had "the following symbols and meaning". I don't just mean art shown in an art class, but any class like history or geography. In my case of owning a shooting target, I could argue that framing and hanging a cheaply produced graphic meant to practice marksmanship was an act of “recontextualization” - changing its context from a bit of performative violence (the act of shooting) to a contemplative consideration as art. But the truth is I liked the image, the form, the balance and proportions of the figures in what to me looked as much like a music poster than as disposable collateral for target practice. Or I could recognize that someone who used it for shooting practice might save it as a souvenir if they had shot well and I saved it as souvenir of never having shot anything at all.

Mostly though I just liked the look of it and thought it was funny to put it on the wall.

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