Monday, August 28, 2017
Seed art at the State Fair
I don't believe there should be any limitations or restrictions put on art from the outside. An artist should be entirely free to express themselves as they like or need. It does no good to say that a painting has to look like something, or a comedian can't swear, or a novelist must primarily compose in words, because when Kandinsky comes along, or Richard Pryor, or James Joyce, those once sensible seeming rules are going to look pretty ridiculous anyways.
But that doesn't mean limitation can't have great utility in the arts. Poets do it with form. A painter might do it with restricted materials. I myself have written 1,700 essays with the understanding that if one of them ever goes all the way to eight paragraphs I will immediately wrap it up in a fit of pique.
It works for me.
I think similar things work for others too. The history of Western Art is in some ways a history of constraint and the terrible power of artists as they break free of those limits. The raw naturalism of the Baroque bursting out of the stomach of the studied and measured grace of the Renaissance. Impressionism cutting the chains of a limiting academic culture. Rock and Roll screaming away from a music of polite expression. And there is terrible energy in breaking out of bindings like those.
But because artists have figured this out they have broken by now all but the most carefully hidden cages. They have cut all but the tiniest chains. And, unfortunately, when there are no chains to be found it can get a little hard on all these rascally artists. Who wouldn't want to rebel in this world, but how does one do it?
My case in point is the humble Minnesota State Fair. The first day of the fair this year we went and poked around. And as is our wont we popped into the fine arts exhibition. This is a very competitive competition, a huge display of juried art, spanning all manner of approaches, styles, mediums, and materials. With diverse judges it is open to everything from classicism to the Avant Garde. And yet somehow it all seems to be less impressive each year I see it. I'm not saying there aren't enjoyable things numbered among its winners, but there's something unraveled about the whole experience. Something at once decorative, self important, and ambitious about it all. Almost everyone looks like they're trying too hard, not having much fun, and, able to say anything, not sure what to say.
Contrast this with our later visit to what we call around here "Seed" Art. This is where one uses seeds, glued to some kind of board, to make an image. You have to use seeds. And this stuff is great; sarcastic, witty, playful, virtuosic. This year's winner was an impressively executed take on Dr. Seuss's Yertle the Turtle subtly enough redone to reference Trump. It was clever, tight, silly, and smart. Better than anything in that huge art building, it was nevertheless hard to imagine it would have even made it to the wall if they had entered it in that contest there.
And so in conclusion, let me just say that, oh, look, my time is up. Curses, just when I was getting to the good part. I demand to talk to who's in charge around here! One of these days I'm going nine paragraphs and you'll never be the same.