November 18, 2017
by Terry Talty
Someone interviewing Susan Sontag asked her what she reads on the beach, or when she doesn’t want to think too hard, what does she read. What did she answer? That no matter her mental state, she always wants her thinking to be disrupted. She wanted to be made to question established thinking, or her current thinking, or just to learn something new. The kind of stuff Sontag liked to read is unsafe if she was guarding what she already thought. She wasn’t she was happy to see something that helped her challenge what she currently believed. If you look at unsafe art it could disrupt, could cause you to rethink things.
This is the main point of the Emily Dickinson poem:
The Brain, within its Groove
Runs evenly—and true—
But let a Splinter swerve—
There is danger in suppressing or unleashing what might be contained in art that howls.
Looking at Contemporary Visual Art
by Terry Talty
For many years, I wrote about looking at contemporary art, labeling myself an Art Tourist. The pieces I’ve written are verbal descriptions of experiences generated by looking at an exhibition or other display of stuff in the visual art context today.
If you look at contemporary art, you know you may see drawing, painting, crafts, photos, video, stuff laying around, sounds, performances or simply idea. And you might be asked to do something with some stuff, or smell, or just hear. You probably have heard the current period called Post Modernism or Pluralism, and heard it described as “anything goes” and you might think it’s more trouble to understand than it’s worth.
But, you may have had experience the Art Tourist describes. Sometimes you leave a museum or gallery and you can’t stop talking about the stuff seen, or you need to come back again. Sometimes you feel confused and want someone to just give it up and explain what’s going on, or you leave thinking precious time was wasted.
Understanding the experiences and thoughts of other humans joins us as a species and makes each one of us more than just the stuff inside a fleshy shell. Art can be a conductor, a facilitator to this intra-species understanding. This blog attempts to crank up some energy about looking at art, and to reflect on how well art enterprises/institutions do the job of communicating to a regular viewer like us.
The entries are viewer-centric, a viewer who openly chooses to look, but who hasn’t necessarily seen the bio-pic of the artist or mind melded with the curator. If art is made to communicate, then a regular viewer should be able to see an exhibition or a piece of art and get something from it. If it needs explanation, if we must know the title, if we need 3-D glasses, then somehow that art enterprise/institution should reveal what is needed, before they reveal when and where we can see it.
The purpose of these entries are not to find out why someone made the art, or how difficult the show was to transport or acquire, or assemble, or how much it means to the curator or cost an institution, or if anything is selling – unless that’s part of the art – it is to understand and experience what is presented to the ordinary viewer. The aim is to expose a bit of what can be obtained from seeing the show.
Hopefully, these texts will add something of their own to our human experience, and you will talk about it for a minute, or two, later.