DAY 213: Separating art from pretension

1 Apr

I’VE got a day of exhibitions and plays on the agenda, plucked from the bill of the Castlemaine State Festival (Castlemaine’s silly hat count has just increased tenfold) – which has got me musing furiously on the meaning of art.

Like, you know those placards you get next to a piece of artwork, explaining the concept behind it?

I’m skeptical.

When I see a work of art, I can’t help suspecting it took its current form partly because it’s aesthetically pleasing, partly because it’s a happy accident, and partly because it tapped into some primal impulse the artist themselves can’t really put their finger on. (Unless it’s an installation, in which case the chin stroking came first.)

So when the accompanying bumf scrapes the barrels of philosophy, mythology, sociology and psychology; weaving in metaphors, totem animals, ancient symbolism, Latin phrases, conditions of the human psyche, pearls of wisdom from obscure intellectuals and other nonsensical guff; I always envisage the artist two days before opening night, sweating and riffling through reference books and print-outs with charcoaled, calloused fingers, desperately trying to embroider multiple layers of intellectualism into their handiwork – rather than “I did this.” In fact, I might indulge on a side-mission to find the ultimate placard of abstract art bunkum. A ‘Shit My Dad Says’ compendium for the art punter. Print it a cute size, display it by the bookshop till, and I’ll make a packet!

But no, look, artists are great, even those ultra-conceptual ones. In the olden days we’d dunk them in the river and make them wear a hurty hat, but we’re much more progressive in 2011.

The play in the evening is good. Held in the old Wattle Gully Mine near Fryerstown, Precipice combines the way bridges like the Westgate and the Tasman are stamped in the Australian consciousness, with a story of loss, loneliness and vertigo. The use of additional actors to portray the inner worlds of the main characters pushes my principles, but if today has taught me anything, it’s that observing with an abstract mind is a skill in itself.

The play was held here. Don't you just want to climb it?

Keeper? Will attempt to keep winching open that mind.

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