Tuesday, August 03, 2004

But Is It Art?

Every month they put up new work in the galleries on Newbury Street near where I work. I look forward to seeing a glimpse of the Boston art scene, or at least this version of it, and when I can I go to First Fridays I do.

Though oddly untrumpeted, First Fridays are pretty cool. They take place the first Friday and Saturday of each month, when almost all the Newbury Street and South End galleries have receptions from 5-7 PM, and crowds wander from gallery to gallery, sipping wine, checking out the new shows and eyeing each other's reactions and outfits. It's completely free so it's a great way to check out what's happening, at least in the "big" galleries of Boston. Plus free snacks! (Ah, the world is a better place with free snacks. And/or free samples. To tide you over on free snacks 'til then, you can always go here and get a free munchkin and coffee, shhh!)

Now remember, I'm new to this whole art world thing. So the idea of each gallery having its own "personality" is fascinating to me. It makes sense when you think about it -- a gallery owner will have a certain message or style it tends to look for. And each month, I'll see galleries with stuff I am just stunned by, and other galleries with work that I am just plain yawning over. The work in the South End is generally much more intriguing than the work you see on Newbury Street. Not always, but usually. I'm not saying anything radical here -- obviously Newbury Street is going to be more conservative as their base is often tourists or more "mainstream" folks.

Now I certainly have no interest in dogging my fellow artists. Anyone who has managed to get their work in a gallery anywhere, well, I'm proud of 'em. It's hard work to make the stuff in the first place, and then to be willing to hang it on a wall where people are likely to snort and make comments about it, this piece of your soul? Well, it takes guts. So please, this is not a critique.

However, as I am trying to learn more about how art works, when I see a painting of some wooden crates with a large piece of fruit on each of the crates and that is the painting in the window of the gallery facing the street as the prime attraction, well, I'm just kinda baffled. It is beautifully painted, the colors are lovely, it is certainly not Thomas Kincade and that is definitely a compliment. Yet ... but ... apparently there is some category of art that isn't really meant to be anything more than something that looks nice in the living room. Again, this is not a criticism of the artist -- you can paint whatever the heck you want to paint. And a gallery can sell whatever they want, and if people want to buy it, well great! But I guess I'm asking, is it art?

I'm certainly not the first to ask this question. If something is just meant to look nice and compliment the furniture, is that art? Can it only be art if it is Important with a capital I?

I remember coming up with a definition of art a while back: Truth, Beauty and/or a paradigm shift. It's still a pretty good real of thumb. But what is it if it isn't art? I don't think the opposite of art is some sort of insult to the world. But I am perplexed when something is in a gallery window and there isn't any there there ... any thoughts on this appreciated. I'm still learning!

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