A couple of stories have attracted my attention the past few weeks. One was that poor, silly woman from Yale who apparently (or not) tried to impregnate herself as often as possible, then took some sort of herbal abortificant (not really) and filmed herself aborting (or menstruating) and then wanted to combine that with plastic wrap and something or other and this was supposed to be displayed as a medium for inciting conversation about the relationship between the female body esthetically and functionally or something like that. Because women and reproduction is such a very neglected discussion point in our society. She succeeded in grossing out a lot of people and really getting Yale very up-tight. But is that “art”?
Then there is some fellow who got a dog off the street (or hired some kids to find one) then took it to an art gallery where it was tied up and allowed to die (or not) and the artist laid out the cryptic message “you are what you read” in dog biscuits were the dog died (or not – the stories keep changing to fast to keep up). Maybe we are supposed to see ourselves as the dog biscuits? Or maybe this is some commentary on animal cruelty and the absolute irony of modern society. A lot of people got upset and it looks like the “artist” is going to perform his art again… because it is art. Isn’t it?
Really, if either of the above things count as art I must be completely mad. I love good art. I spent a lot of time in the BMFA in college and I loved my art history classes. I love a lot of the new art coming out, the classical revival work is really exciting to me. I love music and poetry and theater and visual art in all its many forms. Art has shaped and enlighten my thoughts and enriched my life in innumerable ways. That is the main reason that I really wish that the “art” community would stop treating this juvenile, sadistic, duncical, low-class, gutter obsessed, attention whoring, offensive, drek as art. It is not.
It is not art in the same way my child throwing a temper tantrum is not negotiation. Art, as it is arguably defined in some college classes I have attended, is designed to make you think. Maybe something that challenges the viewer. (At that point it usually collapses into verbal garbage about the deep, challenging, thought provoking thing that is the insulting, argumentative and usually down right disgusting excuse for modern de-constructed art). These types of exhibitions can at best be called performances. What they actually seem to be is rather pathetic screaming fits thrust into what should be the rational discourse of public ideas. When what you do is so offensive that it ceases to be thought provoking and becomes merely provoking, it ceases to be about the ideas and becomes about the “artist”.
What these forms of performance art most represent is a break down of discourse in the public sphere. Everyone has an opinion and every opinion must be expressed but the only opinions that count are the ones that get 15-minutes of fame. They make the news, hit the top of Goggle and technorati, they scream really loudly for a few seconds and then are gone, replaced by then next wacko with an opinion that they want to shock the world into thinking about. Instant attention doesn’t equal fame, and even fame doesn’t equal any sort of gravitias, it just means that you are the one in the spotlight this second. These pathetic attention stunts excused with the misbegotten title of art are more like those silly game shows where the audience dresses up in outrageous costumes so the camera will pan over them for a moment than they are any type of serious discourse on important topics. They don’t even serve their stated purpose of getting people to discuss the ideas they are supposed to be about all they do is create offense and outrage usually directed towards the artist and/or the institution they are sponsored by.
In normal society when someone starts raving and offends those they are with they soon find themselves excluded and unwelcome. The same should happen to this crass form of expression called performance art. We, as a society, have to refuse to call this art and start calling it what it is. It might be self-absorbed, pathetic, disgusting attention whoring. It might be cruel, sadistic, attention-whoring, but it isn’t art.