At the ICA in Boston, I checked out an exhibit by a famous generative artist I admire. Her sculptures included a giant cube made entirely out of push pins. I walked around it, marveling at the feat. My question was: is this art? Does it move or transform me in some way? I concluded that I was not moved, but that it was art. My lack of emotion in its presence didn’t take away from the creative skill and imagination expressed by the artist. She was not prohibited in realizing her vision in any way by my response, or anyone’s response.
At a sculpture park near my home, another great artist has gathered recycled lobster rope in gigantic undulating heaps, painted in primary colors. The mounds of painstakingly knotted rope weave around trees and roll up and down hills. I follow the swirls, stopping to feel the heavy layers, some taller than myself. It’s very impressive. So much work! As I did when facing the giant cube of push pins, I ask myself if I am moved, if this is art. Besides being blown away by the tremendous effort and skill involved, I am not otherwise moved. It is still art.
Moxie. Chutzpah. Boldness, courage, call it what you want. These two artists have it going on in spades. Not everyone is going to understand what they are trying to say, or see the concept they have going on inside their heads. They don’t care. They don’t care big. I bet they enjoy the great reviews they receive from the contemporary art world, but I also bet that they would continue to create their work even if most people responded the way I did.
Gutsy moves are the ones that create important work. Even if some dummy stands there not getting it, the art is significant and valuable because it is bold. Unreserved in its form and presentation, it teaches us to speak up and be heard. I didn’t feel moved the way I do when looking at a painting by Klimt, or reading Wallace Stegner. Still, a different kind of transformation was going on inside me as I regarded those sculptures – an awareness of possibilities, and a disregard for limits.