Is that really “art” though?

First off, let me state right now that I am fairly open-minded when it comes to art. I recognize that there are a host of different styles of and messages in art that I do not understand for one reason or another. That’s just how it is. I am in no way discounting it as art; I just don’t get it. Despite this, there are very specific occasions where somebody presents me some kind of “art” and I find myself face to crotch with an atrocity. That’s not art.

Please, let me elaborate before you take the chance to shout at me from behind your cameras and canvases. I recognize that nudity can be a part of artistic expression. In fact, I believe the human body in and of itself is a work of art. Regardless, I am here to differentiate are from shock and voyeurism. While I will focus on the concept of nudity here, please feel free to insert your own foul language (which I most definitely use and condone the usage of), offensive actions or other generally uncomfortable materials into its place in this argument. They will all fit, I assure you.

As I was saying, the human body, naked or clothed, is a beautiful thing. I have known people to model naked or nearly naked and create some beautiful, tasteful, creative works. From photos to drawings, it can be done. Despite this, it most definitely does not always need to be done.

To include nudity in art means that something must be happening in reference to the human body in its purest form. Something must be raw or natural or unchanged. That’s fine. What’s not fine is a “short film” in which a naked woman wraps her parts (otherwise completely uncovered) in saran wrap and electrical cords. Yes, this is a real thing I really witnessed in the real world. In reading the description of said travesty, I was informed that I was viewing the exploration of the “constraints of sexuality and sexual intimacy…[exposed to] ingrained foundations of guilt and confinement associated with intimate interaction through visual representation.”

Well. Okay then.

Here’s the thing: the description did a better job of conveying the message than the actual film did because it made a point (albeit not a very original one) and didn’t give me a black eye beating me in the face with it. There are so many ways to show rather than tell about that feeling of sexual constraints brought forth by society, none of them requiring minutes watching a stoic, nude woman tying plastic wrap around her parts.

Basically what I’m getting at is this: in order to use things like nudity effectively, they must be used sparingly and tastefully. I fully respect and acknowledge that I may have higher standards for those things having grown up in a family where my grandmother couldn’t manage to say the word “naked” (it sounded much more like nekked (neck-uhd)), but even with that in mind, I know that after a certain level of discomfort, I can’t be the only one feeling it.

I am more than sure that that film could have been doubly effective without a woman dragging cords across her body while sprawled out on the floor. In all honesty, she sure looked to be anything but sexually constrained in the film. And that’s just it. To me, that says she was naked not for necessity, but instead for shock. And it worked. Clearly I remember her (no matter how hard I’m trying to forget).

The moral of the story is this: just because it’s an expression doesn’t make it “art.” Sometimes it’s just somebody being voyeuristic and needing both gratification and justification. Other times it is a person thinking they are making a bold, outlandish statement when really they are just lacking in modesty and being put naked on a canvas for no reason other than that the canvas was bare. That isn’t art. Ever. Calling it art is disrespectful to artists everywhere. The real ones. People making something with the intent to inspire emotions or send a message.

For something like that to be art, there really must be some kind of feeling inspired or message intended. If it is well executed, neither of those things should beat the audience over the head. That’s overkill (still not art). I’m sure I sound harsh and critical, and I am. I also don’t think I’m wrong though. It’s the grown up version of a child learning a swear word and saying it as loud as he can to draw attention to himself. It’s all for show without any kind of true message or meaning behind it.

Now, by all means, like what you like and feel what you feel. I would never ask you to do otherwise. But, please, if you think about it, the next time you are exposed to “art,” stop and think: “Am I gaining something from this emotionally or intellectually, or is it merely meant to give me something to write about online later tonight?”

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2 thoughts on “Is that really “art” though?

  1. This was a really well articulated commentary Amanda and I agree with your side to an extent, but as an art history enthusiast and advocate let me play devils advocate here and vouch for the artist who created the piece by defending the fact that your reaction is (I could only assume) exactly what the artist intended. A huge part of the greater concept of achieving “art” at any level (in my opinion) is the idea that one is able to evoke a desired reaction whether it be absolute awe or utter repulsion. For instance the Dadaist movement (with which you may be familiar of the most famous works – the seemingly defaced reproduction of the Mona Lisa with a handlebar mustache or a prefabricated urinal with which the artist simply put his name on it and called it art) was a sort of “anti-art art movement” created in response to an overall disgust in the social and political values that were the norm in the early 1900s. At the time they were created and shown, people had almost identical responses to yours – they were offended and frankly pretty pissed to walk into a gallery and have their eyes be assaulted with “anti-art”. While I’m not familiar with the specific work you are referring to, I would assume the artist invisioned this piece to be a sort of Dadaist revival in that sense. The point with that is that the artist’s intention was not to elicit your typical “oh wow, that’s good art!” response; rather, he/she wanted you as the viewer to call into question whether his “art” is real “art” and come to a conclusion yourself. (Meanwhile, the artist is probably sitting in a corner snickering and applauding each viewer who elicits this response, because a good handful of artists just really like to f*ck with people). But to wrap up this comment (which I didn’t expect to be incredibly long, sorry about that lol) art is ultimately subjective and we as a viewer will undoubtedly not understand or agree with all of it, but the beauty of it is that we don’t all agree and we most likely will never agree. In fact, I would argue that art is a sort of creative space where anyone can create anything and call it whatever they damn well please because while art has rules, they can all be broken with the right justification – and while that may frustrate people, it’s just the way it is and we ought to respect and appreciate art for what it is – a deeply personal expression (beautiful or not). Anyone who has partaken in the art world would is able to experience being simultaneously judged and accepted for what they create, and often times art is created with intention of appeasing its creator rather than its audience, so keep that in mind. (Also, not assuming you don’t know anything about this kind of stuff, but the piece may have also featured or employed formal artistic elements and principles (such as composition, line, form, color choice, etc.) that could’ve elevated the piece to be technically appreciated as art if you want to look at it literally).
    -Not trying to be a buzzkill or anything, just kind of talking out my butt as usual 🙂

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    1. Renee, you are most definitely not being a buzzkill. Your thoughts are more than valid, and I am quite glad that they differ from mine. More perspective is always welcome. I can say that I too, agree with you for the most part. Art can most definitely be meant to repulse or excite disdain in a person. That is entirely valid, and I have seen and appreciated such things from powerful photos of the aftermath of war to crass language.

      The only thing that I cling to is the fact that sometimes expression just isn’t art. This may be purely semantics, but the fact that the movement was titled “the anti-art movement” says to me not only that they were trying to stray from the fold (which is wonderful), but also that they recognized that they weren’t necessarily trying to make “art.” However, maybe they were. Maybe they were trying to expand the definition of art by assaulting us with things we’d rather not view.
      Regardless, I understand and respect your opinion and thank you for sharing it.

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