My Kid Could Write That: The Return Of Art Star

Posted 9/01/2008 by smartblackboy in Labels: , , , , ,

I was watching the special features to a documentary "My Kid Could Paint That" about wunderkid Marla Olmstead who started selling paintings for thousands of dollars at the age of four.

Pretty much she got caught up in a huge media frenzy and people question whether or not she actually makes her paintings or if it is her dad. There was a 60 minutes special. You can get a sense of the debate if you read the Art News Blog here (read the previous posts and especially the comments) and the NYT article here.

Although Marla's story is indeed interesting I was taken by the more general conversation about art, particularly post-modernist art, that Michael Kimmelmann attempted to take on in a separate interview.
"The majority of people have to be outside or there is nothing cool about being on the inside, that is just the way of things."
This statement is old news, however, he later started to make one of the most interesting arguments I have heard in a while about art vis a vis the viewer when he posed the question: At what point does it become obligatory to understand art?

Unfortunately he immediately backed away from the idea a few sentences later by saying that art is not an obligation.

However, the idea that we as humans have some sort of obligation to understand art that is not instantaneously accessible - and more precisely "at what point" that obligation begins is fascinating.

If we do have an obligation to understand art then that would mean that we do not fulfill our potential as human beings - that we do not become fully human - until we have met this obligation.

I would like to think that we have an obligation to try to understand a genre of art that isn't readily accessible to us at least once in our lifetimes. Of course it would be great if we could always try but most of us do not have the time nor the inclination to do that - so perhaps once suffices for us to be a "good viewer".

Still, the "insider" versus "outsider" reality of art might undermine this argument. If most of us are "outsiders" how can we have any obligation to understand art that is selected, defined, and presented by "insiders". As "outsiders" what stake does one have in the post modernist art world? And if there is indeed a stake - is it strong enough to make an "outsider" obligatory to understand the creations and artifice of the "inside world"?

At this point you might argue that there is really no distinction between "outsiders" and "insiders" - that we all take part in the defining of art because what is art (and especially post-modernist art) but the memory and the concept that is left in our minds after we have viewed the piece.

However, if we take two late examples - John Cage and Yves Klein - it becomes hard to argue that "insiders" don't exist.

John Cage composed a piece of music that involves no instruments playing (aka silence).

Yves Klein sold invisible paintings.

Now if you were to make an invisible painting and try to sale it most people would think you were crazy. Same if you tried to compose silence.

Some may say it was the fact that they were "first" to do these things, but I would posit that there were probably bums, madmen, and geniuses on the streets who also had invisible paintings and great symphonies of silence.

However, if you made an invisible painting and I blogged about it on Art Star and then the New York Times wrote an article about it, and then you had a gallery showing of invisible paintings that collectors bought for $10,000 each - well now art students have to learn about you.

I am not passing judgment on whether this is good or bad, but I am suggesting that perhaps an "outsider" might have no obligation to understand being confronted with invisible paintings and pieces of silence that is made entirely possible by the machinations of insiders.

I am saying that if we are indeed obligated to understand art, then until western art is democratized (I would argue that non-western art already is) that the point of obligation should be low and should be fulfilled quickly so that you can have the right to ignore the invisible paintings all around you.

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