Last weekend I subjected myself to the ICA Philly's Big Nothing show. It is a leading contender for the worst show I've seen all year. It is the art exhibit for people who prefer reading about art or theorizing about art to actually looking at it.
It is a show full of art that appeals to the October subscriber base and anyone else who values an idea more than the execution of that idea into a work of art. The Big Nothing attempts to demonstrate that art need not be visually engaging, that it need not be looked at, that all you have to do is think about it and somehow that in itself will be fulfilling. This is an exhibit that should have been a book.
No art exhibit I have seen in years has so thoroughly rejected the idea that art can be or should be beautiful. Well, you can't look at an idea. And art is supposed to be looked at, not just thought about.
I disagree with him completely. Although I haven't yet made it to Philadelphia to see this show in person, and thus I can't comment on its quality, I do have a problem with Tyler's statement. I feel like he is slamming the door on art and its possibilities, and I never expected this from him. Tyler's assertion that no show has "thoroughly rejected the idea that art can be or should be beautiful" is off the mark in my opinion. I think that everyone agrees that art can be beautiful. There's no room for controversy here. However, I hope that Tyler isn't really saying that art should be beautiful. This is inherently flawed because of the old saying, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." Beauty is subjective. We cannot, with certainty, say what is beautiful. We can say that X% of the population believes that a particular Monet is beautiful. But because someone, undoubtedly, believes it is not beautiful, does this then mean it isn't art? I've stated on this blog that Cubism, to me, is hideous. It's downright ugly. But it is still art. To link the definition of art to a subjective critique just seems wrong.
Tyler also asserts that this exhibit "should have been a book." I assume he would elaborate to say a book without pictures, only text. If only text, then the book is no different than art theory, fiction, etc. A certain context is necessary to promote "Nothing" art to more than theory. It has to be in a visual arts gallery to mean something.
I would say that all art provokes a thought or an idea. So, why can't we skip the customary middle step of creating a painting, photograph or sculpture, and get straight to the thought or idea? Is it the means to an end that makes art? Or is it just the end that really matters? Sure, a painting is an object. We can touch it, smell it, etc. But when we look at a painting on a wall, is it not really just the thoughts and ideas in our head. The idea behind any work of art isn't in the actual piece of art, it's in our mind. Maybe I'm way off on this one...
Finally, to say that art is supposed to be looked at, and I don't wish to dive into the deep end of philosophy, but who is to say where you have to see it? Is there a distinct difference between seeing an object or act in the physical world versus in your mind? As an artist I have struggled for a long time with the following problem. When I think of creating a piece of art, I visualize it in my head. I can see the final product. For a while I would not/could not bring myself to actually create the piece in the physical world. There was no point. I had already seen it, so why go through the effort of creating it. That is why I spent a year making art that had a degree of randomness. There was no way for me to know what the final product would look like. This kept me interested. I came to believe though that one had to make physical art to be taken seriously. Perhaps if my physical art is one day taken seriously, then I can explore the notion of art in the so-called mind's eye.
I would love to hear more from Tyler on this subject. It's clear that Tyler prefers looking at art rather than reading about it (although he frequently tells readers what art book he is currently reading), he's more interested in the process of creating a piece of art, and he thinks art should be beautiful. These are some pretty broad statements and I would love to hear more details about his thoughts on this matter.
Again, I want to make clear that I haven't seen the show in person, but my comments aren't about the actual pieces of art. My concern is with Tyler's statements about the nature of art.