(…part of my continued conversation with Jason Simanek, following up on his post at bohemianalps.com where he posted “Fine Art in Museums: Tigers in Zoos“)
I am lucky to have an assortment of art to cover the walls in my home. I don’t own a Pollock or a Warhol – most of it is work done by friends or myself. On the rare occasion when we have guests over, I think it is interesting to give people a tour of the house and see what artwork – if any – people respond to. If the home is the “natural habitat” for art, then perhaps the response people have to art in this context is more authentic than it would be in a museum. Here is what I have observed…
When confronted with art unexpectedly, most people will say something safe like, “Did you do that?” or “I love all your artwork.” They are very careful to avoid directly interacting with the art on my walls. The exception is photography, especially photos of our family which aren’t art at all. These responses sounds like, “Look how young you guys were,” or “what kind of camera do you have?”
If “religion and politics” are the top two topics that people try to avoid talking about in polite conversation then art has to be a close third. I think art is intimidating to non-artists. That is the only way to explain the popularity of mass-produced reproductions and non-interactive visual junk. People are afraid of empty walls – but they are just as afraid of walls that make any kind of statement. Paint it beige and hang a Georgia O’Keefe print and nobody will ask any questions.
A few years ago I had an art show where I created prints of different faces of Jesus Christ that I scanned and enlarged from old Sunday School posters. (Thank you for coming to that show, Jason, by the way. It meant a lot to me to have you there.) Anyway, one of the more memorable pieces from that show was a 4 foot wide print of Jesus with a crown of thorns and a somber expression. Needless to say, it has made quite a statement hanging above our dinner table in the kitchen. The surprising thing is that this print hasn’t started any real conversation outside of Betsy persuading me to move it down to the basement. Perhaps, the subject matter is too intimidating. Frankly, I think it is kind of funny to sit under a 4 foot photo of Jesus’ face and pretend it isn’t there. That metaphor might be stronger than what I had in mind anyway.
Sometimes “art” feels irrelevant in the same way that I struggle with organized religion. People just prefer to ignore it. I think that is sad, because both art and Christianity have the power to rise above the mediocrity of everything else. It is much easier to ignore the meaningful things in life and embrace the “safe” stuff. As a result the kitsch rises to the top and things with substance get attacked – or worse yet ignored – because these things are uncomfortable. The people who create and have passion for them seem absurd because they have the guts to be different. People don’t have time to wrestle with deep thoughts when there are simpler ways to entertain themselves. Why would anyone want to stifle an endless stream of gratification by confronting things that aren’t easy to understand or appreciate?
With that I will toss it back to Jason’s blog. This one ended on a dark note, so next time I will try to focus more on the positive, I promise…