Friday, April 5, 2013

Contemplating the Bauble


Folly in politics results in very real physical or economic or social suffering by those adversely influenced by its misguided policy.  Folly in science is eventually compared with the truth of reality and found wanting.  Folly in art is generally ignored as being mere bad taste.  Is bad art still art, but badly done or does it fail the test of art and is it then more accurately described as bad painting or bad writing or acting or… whatever?  What measure is used to determine whether a work is fit to be termed art?  Who, among the vast population, describes this measure?  No matter the answers to these questions the fact is most people don’t care.  They know what they like.  Anyone demeaning their favorite movie or painting is guilty of being an over-educated snob.  The standards of academics and connoisseurs discounts the pleasure derived from their condemned art.  If someone says my proudly displayed Coke Refreshes! porch thermometer is kitsch then they obviously don’t get it.  They must eat multi-course meals with a fork for each serving and don’t know the joy of a simple hot dog with mustard.  They are prisoners of their ivory tower mentality. 

Can a mass produced wall thermometer advertising Coke be considered art?  Not likely but it might be to an anthropologist unearthing the sole surviving one a few hundred years from now.  Andy Warhol imitating The Real Thing might also qualify its meaning enough to be worthy of art.  Why?  Warhol’s intent is not to boost soda pop sales.  He’s drawing attention to the intrinsic value of the object itself, and with more than a little irony.  His reaction is much the same as that of the anthropologist discovering a colorful artifact representing some aesthetic value of an ancient civilization.  The treasured find is seen for what it really is – a pleasurable creation.  It is no longer viewed as cynical commercialism.  It is an expression of joy.  The person designing the thermometer didn't care about Coke sales.  Here was an aspiring artist being given the job to design something fun and useful.  It isn't art, though; no more than is a cleverly designed toaster.  They don’t speak to the ultimate futility that is human life.  The thermometer just promises you that an ice cold Coke on a really hot day is refreshing.  Somewhere there is an artist imagining a bright red sculpture for your kitchen counter that also toasts your bread.  What is so wrong with these thoughts?  Do I have to be disturbed or ponder something at great length in order for it to be worthy of art?  Give me a break.  Art is big enough to be represented in most everything we touch and do.  Sure, it’s not all of the same caliber or purpose.  Some items suggest longings never to be fulfilled while others delight our senses at a child’s birthday. 

Feel free to mass produce art.  Let yourself go and fill your home with the junk you celebrate as life enhancing.  The world is a better place populated with neon colored shoes and people going around in pants that soon enough will be thought too ridiculous for anyone to wear.  People sacrifice their lives over beliefs in religion and politics but no one ever goes to war over women’s fashion.  It’s human nature to always be thinking up new and exotic ways to adorn the female figure and enhance the features of the feminine face.  It’s a healthy preoccupation.  You’re not likely to find a single dress designer armed for mortal combat or on a government sanctioned terrorist list.  They’re simply too busy thinking up fresh new takes on baubles, bangles and bright shiny beads.

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