Friday, March 27, 2009

A Box of Dirt

Tonight I attended an art opening at Watkins Institute here in Nashville. Going to art openings is one of my favorite things to do. Nashville has quite a number of galleries and has a thriving arts community. There are art openings almost every week. Art openings usually offer free wine and hor’derves and an art opening is usually a festive atmosphere. I have been going to art openings for years. I run into some of the same people at openings and while I have not developed any close relationships, I have developed a chit-chat acquaintance with several people. Art openings are fun! In the same room you have everyone from hippy-looking creative types to well-dressed Belle Meade art patrons to Nashville-cowboy-songwriter-types to students to obviously gay guys. It is fun people-watching.

I like art. I appreciate art. I have visited many of the best galleries of the world. I appreciate a range of art from classical Greek to the old masters to the impressionist. However, there is a lot of art that I just do not understand. What makes something art? Tonight at Watkins, there was a piece of art that was a box of dirt. The title of the piece was “A Box of Dirt.” The box was about the dimension of a shoebox but about twice the size. The box was a crude, industrial box of unfinished lumber. It had once held some sort of industrial fittings. Stenciled on the side was the nomenclature of what the box had once contained. The “artist” did not make the box. The box was placed upright on a pedestal. The surface was dirt that had probably been put in the box damp and allowed to dry. The surface was somewhat concave.

I have been going through a career crisis of sorts recently and I have been contemplating “retiring.” I probably will not, but have been unhappy and have been weighing my options. I would not want to call myself “retired.” I am too young for that. Due to the collapse of the stock market I can not afford to retire and really do need an income, but equally important, I would want something to do. I would not be happy not being productive and I need the self-esteem that comes with a title. Plus, I really like the work I do. I find the work rewarding. Nevertheless, the crisis I have been experiencing has made me think a lot about my future and various options.
As I looked at “A Box of Dirt” I thought, I could become an artist! If you are an artist there is no objective standard of weather you are a good artist are not. You never have to sell any art and you can still call yourself an artist. I could be a “found object artist” or an “outsider” artist. No one can tell you that you are not really an artist. As my wife and I stood and contemplated the piece, I turned to her and said, “I think I could do that.”

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  1. I once went to the Guggenheim in NYC and there was an exhibit with nothing more than hundreds of pieces of wrapped candies on the floor. You could take a piece of candy (oops--I mean you could take a piece of the artwork) if you liked. Go figure. You might as well become an artist.

  2. I am an artist with formal art training and let me tell you what the box of dirt was: it was an idea, and it was there to make you think. Real art is not supposed to be a pretty picture, it is supposed to make you think or question or contemplate something. Maybe it was supposed to make you think about dirt. Art is an idea, not an object. That idea is the point, not the finished product. There are some artists that are technicians and they can create beautiful paintings of landscapes, etc., but there is some debate over whether or not they say anything. In general, if art makes you think, that is its intention. When you see a cute picture, that can be art too, but of a different kind. Could you be an artist? Sure, if you have ideas. Art is a lot like politics.

  3. I have seen some doggone weird stuff that someone labeled as art. By no stretch of the imagination am I an artist, but I believe I could do some of the stuff that passes for art.