One of the earliest educated arguments I can remember engaging in happened when I was in kindergarten. It was after school, and for some reason my friend Sasha and I went head-to-head about who was the son of whom: Jesus the son of God, or God the son of Jesus. I took the latter position, and man, did I defend it with a fury.
This is all very funny to write about some 15 years later seeing as a) I couldn’t have been any more wrong and b) I attended a Catholic school at the time. In any case, I recount the story today not to relive my earliest memories of public humiliation but instead to pass on a valuable lesson. Despite how trivial my argument with Sasha may seem, that episode in the empty classroom at St. Thomas Aquinas formed the definitive moment in my life where the value of silence was imparted to me.
I still believe silence can be the best policy; if you’ve ever been to an art museum then I’m sure you’ll agree. There’s always that one loud-mouth, wiry, frazzle-haired art aficionado who swears they see flecks of blahblah in the strokes of blahblah; or, on the opposite side of the spectrum, the reluctant museum-goer, who mostly complains very loudly and declares that they’ve created better art peeing in the snow.
In any case, these traitors of silence all bring up a valid point (blind man excluded). There can be something absolutely infuriating about modern and contemporary art. Paint splashes, canvases colored blue, bicycles glued to stools, a good 75 percent of performance art – it all begs us to ask the same question: “What is going on?”
And rightfully so — art is very much an inside conversation that requires its viewers to know where art’s going, where its been, and what it is.
What used to be a leisurely stroll through a museum just trolling for eye candy now demands brain power. It demands prior knowledge; it demands endless effort that really, when faced with the option of watching the DVD set of Arrested Development, art rarely wins out.
Colgate, I tell you, it doesn’t have to be this way. Art isn’t just glorified DIY craft projects with self-important titles commissioned for museums.
Art is kissing a giant, white Cy Twombly painting with red lipstick in France. It’s splashing paint and ruining other people’s graffiti art. It’s making the Munich BMW showroom like a Cathedral to offer the religious experience of shopping for a BMW. Art is, in short, moving out of the galleries into ridiculous territory. Art is no longer about painting a realistic picture or sculpting a realistic object; instead, it’s about making fun of the people and the world around you. Take Tracy Emin and her piece “Everyone I Have Ever Slept With.” It’s a tent with the names of everyone Tracy has ever slept with sewn into it: girls, boys, friends, siblings, her parents- ha!
See what happened just there? Emin hasn’t laid with all these people in the biblical sense; she’s simply shared a bed with them.
The funny thing about this piece is I’m willing to bet that there was more than one viewer out there who took one look at Emin’s tent and proudly proclaimed “slut!” in the middle of the gallery when they should have just kept quiet and done a little more research on it.
The thing we can all learn from Emin’s tent is that art is funny. There’s humor in the absurdity of painting a blue canvas and selling it to someone; there’s humor in having someone kick you down a flight of stairs for the sake of performance art; there’s humor in all the absurd and rational things when art is involved.
So if you’re going to go to the museum and opt out of a laugh-fest watching Arrested Development DVDs, do yourself a favor and keep quiet. Art has become a century long inside joke — a network of pranksters who laugh all the way to the bank while we’re busy making “I can make better art peeing in the snow” jokes.
Keep quiet long enough to learn about what you’re viewing, Colgate, and I promise you too will get to laugh at someone else’s expense.