Art or ArNt?

My sister-in-law joined my wife, daughter, and I this past weekend on our visit to the Museum of Contemporary Art, here in Chicago. Just the day before, we had visited the Art Institute, one of the finest collections of masterpieces in the U.S. as well as the world. It had been a few years since I'd been to MCA, but I remember that I wasn't terribly "moved" by what I saw there. This time was not much different (in fact, I think it was even less interesting than my previous visit). Although it did have one redeeming quality (which ended up causing all of us a huge embarrassment), namely that artist Rudolf Stingel invited the observer (admirer?) to "interact" with a few pieces of his art.

The first piece consisted of 1/2" sheets of foil-lined foam insulation covering every square inch of the walls and ceiling in the museum entry and main hallway, inciting the "hall of mirrors" piece as a theme. The observer was to "leave their mark" in what ever way suited them, which, as you can see, we did--even Madelyn. :) Beautiful, eh?

The second piece was a giant, cream-colored rectangle of carpet hung on the wall that you could rub your fingers through and make designs. During the tour, I thought, "I'll come back to this one later, so I can make my imprint way up high above the rest of these earthlings" (I'm 6'3" and can jump, ya know whud um sayun'?).

The third piece was an even larger slab of carpet, this time incandescent orange, covering the floor. It filled nearly a fourth of the entire main level of the museum. Inspiring, let me tell you.

So, when we were through with the tour, we decided to go "engage" with the art on our own. We used our fingers, knuckles, and keys to leave impressions in the foil-foam. The orange blob didn't have much to offer us, except a headache from looking at it too long (don't worry, we weren't the slightest bit tempted to do that!). We made it back to "the wall" of carpet, a portion of which was being used for a professional model shoot that was going on at the time. I could feel the adrenaline start to pulse through my veins as I approached the white mass. "Watch this," I said to the others. I walked up to the carpet, took a drop step and jumped as high as I could, whacking it with my fist to make sure I left my mark. "BOOOOM!" And the whole room went silent--except the gallery worker who yelled, "HEY, this is a museum!" All eyes were fixed on me...including the models. I rebutted with some smart comment about how the tour guide said it was interactive, but I know that no matter what I would've said (including saying nothing), I couldn't have escaped being seen as a complete moron.

"Matt, hush. You're just going to draw more attention to yourself," my wife tells me. "Hey, you're supposed to be on my side!" I think to myself as I try to allow the blood to recede from my face. Who the heck knew that behind the rug was a giant sheet of metal that sounded like palace doors being slammed? The tour guide should've warned me! I think it's going to take a lot of recovery time to regain my Cool Factor from that one. And therapy. We watched The Devil Wears Prada that evening, which took the edge off a little bit.

Anyway, I left there wondering (along with my wife and sister-in-law), Is that art? I thought, "If DaVinci or Van Gogh or Rembrandt could see into the future and observe 'modern art', I wonder what they'd think? I wonder if they'd just laugh, or if they'd be flaming mad that we looked at a big hunk of carpet and called it 'art'?" I wonder myself if it is an insult to naturally skilled artists when we honor those who simply have "creative ideas".

Does creativity = art, or is there some degree of skill required? And how do you judge creativity? Some would say, "That's the point. You don't." In fact, according to this article in the Tribune, that seems to have been the ideological thrust behind Stingel's exhibit. But if art is merely creative, and you can't judge the degree of one's creativity, then doesn't that eliminate any element of "greatness" among artists? Well, again, that's the point many contemporary artists are trying to make. They're trying to bring art to the bourgeousie, if you will. While I suppose there's something noble to be found in that, the overall aesthetic quality of our art appears to be suffering because of it. Instead of achieving universal appeal, as the historic Masters did, much modern art only appeals to a select group of elite, "cultured" connoisseurs. How ironic! While modern art philosophy attempts to make the creation of art more egalitarian, this very process renders art which has the very opposite effect for the partaker.

Of course, this is merely my opinion. Anyone else have a different one?

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