Why We Should Love the Venus de Milo
Art needs at least two of these three features to make it worthwhile.
One: A novel synthesis of ideas that challenges conceptions of reality. Two: An aesthetic that illuminates an aspect of beauty which resonates in the depths of our psyches. Or three: Tits.
With this in mind, walk with me through the lower floor of the campus center. We enter from the patio, turn right, and slide past the avid studiers beside the windows. As you ascend the three steps up to The Commons register area and wonder if that hot guy just winked at you or if he has a twitch, you see it: three canvasses painted the colors of a fungus-ridden, hard-boiled egg and overlaid with jagged white and brown squiggles. To me, it resembles an aerial view of dried, sun-scorched tributaries on a hellish Serengeti landscape. Others have suggested a rotting brain, vomit with lines, or an autistic child’s finger painting.
If you put your face close, you’ll notice it smells like dog. If you then blow, dust will scratch your eyes. If you take an exacto knife and carve your name into the corner, a chubby TUPD officer will show up at your room and question you.
I come to the campus center to unwind, grab a bite to eat, and chat while convincing myself I’m studying. This “art” makes that impossible. How can I focus on accomplishing anything when such a blatant failure assaults my senses faster than the reek of the quiet room bathroom right after a 90 pound girl drops a massive load?
And what does it say about Tufts students that we let this go on? That we’re apathetically disengaged with our surroundings? That we don’t yearn for beauty? That we could care less about the campus center because we wish we went to Brown and our parents don’t love us as much as our older brothers and now we’ll never meet Emma Watson?
Ever since Marcel DuChamp decided to hang up a urinal and call it art in 1917, the notion that technical skill matters has slowly disintegrated. Now, only the idea matters. But it is the process of perfecting creation that leads to the best ideas. You have to practice telling stories as a child if you want to convincingly lie to your close friends and family about your cocaine addiction once you grow up. When the process of creation dies, the ideas do too.
For example, the title for the most expensive artwork sold by a living being belongs to Damien Hirst for a skull he glued diamonds onto. He got $100 million for it. Weird, because my ex-girlfriend rhinestoned her cell phone and all she got was dumped.
If we want to attribute talent to a single artist, they need to have a distinctive thought and a distinctive way to show it. The difference between a stoner babbling about the cosmos and Einstein is that one was right, could explain why, and showered regularly.
Back in the day, the possession of rare and expensive fine art reaffirmed the aristocracy’s superiority. It was difficult to make and expensive to acquire. Today, with the democratization of access to most forms of information, any guy with a Flickr account can show off his “Nude with Pink Feather Boa” series to the world and have his friends tell him how great his abs look. While this opportunity spreads the opportunity to participate in creative pursuits, it has also destroyed any coherent hierarchy with which to judge art.
Beauty is subjective, you say? Who am I to judge? We should understand it as a Rohrshachian examination of our subconscious desires? No, that can’t be true because I keep seeing myself playing with the new limited edition American Girl doll, Chrissa.
Listen, the campus center wall debauchery looks ugly for no good reason. Just because it’s hung up and presented as an official piece of art doesn’t mean we have to accept it unquestioningly. We don’t approach anything else this way, but for some reason, we see art and immediately stop thinking we should have opinions. It’s squiggles on a canvas! We call someone with bad ideas that can’t spell stupid and illiterate. Why don’t we say the same about art that fails equally?
Flickr and the Internet’s influence on the dispersion of knowledge may influence values, but we can’t just start thinking every idea holds equal merit. I mean, what if we did the same thing with U.S. foreign policy? We could just start a war with some country in the Middle-East for some unarticulated reason, killing hundreds of thousands of people, and conveniently profit from their abundant oil reserves while failing to provide poor U.S. citizens with adequate healthcare. How messed up would that be? We must recognize that how we approach artistic ideas influences our ability to differentiate between the good and the bad in every arena.
We rely on a system of values to derive our culture and identity, the tools we use to construct meaning. The more considered and perfected our values are, the greater the meaning we can create. Without these societally established referents of meaning, we can’t even communicate collectively. I couldn’t rely on the outrageous connotations of “tits” to offensively draw you into my essay and hopefully make you laugh and think. Instead, words like “tits” and “breasts” and “mammaries” and “daddy’s little fun bags” become nothing more than a collection of worthless, squiggly lines on a piece of paper – tit nihilism. If we accept the campus center paintings as art, we contribute to the depressing leveling-off of meaning that isolates individuals by making it impossible to communicate. We end up with no mutually comprehensible mode of expression. Art should explore and beautify subtle distinctions, not homogenize them.
The freedom of expression granted to art makes it an especially vital testing ground for new ideas. If a piece of artwork has no ideas or suggests ideas are dead, we cannot accept it, much less praise it. That would be like loving your parents even if they didn’t pay for college.
I think we should all want to live in a world that values the masterful expression of great thought and judge accordingly. Each human act, from oil painting to filing taxes should have established criteria for judgment because they all require thinking. The most talented and established practitioners in a field should strive to improve those criteria. If a person hasn’t developed the necessary skills for mastery, they can’t credibly question that field. At the end of the day, if my father doesn’t get a tax write-off for that “business dinner” he took his mistress on, his accountant isn’t an artist; he just doesn’t know what he’s doing.
Colleges function as factories that manufacture the enriching ideas which redeem a confusing and often mediocre world. Our art should celebrate and take seriously that responsibility. Or at least have tits. O