5/24/10

Sitting with Marina

The second post at the The Stone (the new and newly notorious New York Times philosophy blog) is about the MoMA exhibit "Sitting with Marina."  Most tiresome question you can possibly ask about a modern artwork:  what does it mean?  Why does it have to mean anything, in any simple "It means ____" way?  A bit better:  what's it about?  (Which could have a very long, inchoate, essentially non-verbal answer.)

Something that strikes me often in art museums, especially when I'm looking at contemporary or conceptual art, is how the museum makes the art.  Put "Sitting with Marina" in a subway station and you've got something completely different.  The stone floors and the MoMA name are doing a lot here.

What I can't figure out is why the sitters look so sad.


They look like they've just come face to face with the tragic inner essence of all of reality---by sitting across from Marina!   This kid is the only one who seems to have kept his wits about him--


His expression seems to say "Um, what's going on here with all this sitting and looking at each other?"

10 comments:

amos said...

The whole thing mystifies me. I asked in another blog what the point is and I learned that art is what the art world says is art. If that is true, in order to follow art, one has to be interested in what the art world does, without questioning content or message of what the art world does, since, as you say, if the same woman sits in a subway station, it's not art.
Art then becomes a game, which may be extremely fascinating for those who choose to follow art, but makes absolutely no sense to those who haven't chosen to follow art. I also wonder how we, the public, can be sure that the art world has good criteria for deciding what is art. For example, in many fields when you submit a work for publication, you do it without your name and your contribution is assessed by group of peers. Such procedures avoid the corruption which occurs in many fields: for example, I decide to publish my brother's brilliant essay or that of a woman who attracts me, etc. How does the art world guarantee me that such corruption doesn't exist in its circles or perhaps the art world is above such human, all too human weakness. That all genuinely puzzles me.

Jean Kazez said...

I don't think there's "a point" in some easily summarizable sense. With performance art you really need to be there and allow something to happen (without too much cognitive forcing). If it doesn't, fine...you just go on to the next room. As to the setting making a big difference--it does, but I don't think that discredits the art work. I recently paid big bucks to get into MoMA and was entirely happy with the experience, even if I can't spell out criteria for what should be there and not there. I suspect it's one of those "you know it when you see it" sorts of things, from the curator's standpoint.

amos said...

Would you accept a "you know it when you see it" criterion from the editor of a philosophy journal
or would you demand that he or she give you good reasons why your article was accepted or rejected?

Jean Kazez said...

Ah, but philosophy is not art! I don't think a curator's job can possibly be quite like a philosophy editor's job. Referees can list errors--actual errors! There's errors in art in quite the same straightforward sense. No doubt curators talk to each other coherently, but there's an element of "I know it when I see it" (I'm betting).

amos said...

Obviously, I know that philosophy is not art. However, art seems to occupy a space without criteria, which no other field does. Contemporary music may not always be pleasant to listen to, but there are certain technical criteria in the field.
There's no reason why every field requires criteria of course, and if people enjoy witnessing art, fine: it doesn't pollute and it doesn't harm sentient beings. Still, at times the offer in the art world seems to me to be like the 500 dollar cup of coffee that was offered in Japan: the coffee was exactly the same as coffee everywhere, but the value came from the fact that people were willing to pay it.

rtk said...

Yes, Amos, what the art world says is art is art, which opens up the work to unlimited criticism. Even more, art is often defined as whatever the artist says is art and the artist him/herself is self-labeled. Currently, more is expected and the artist, critic, and historian is expected to speak of the intentions. This leads to serious and very pompous garbage. It is generally understood that you can not replicate with words what you hear in music; that touch can not be conveyed with language; counting requires numbers; describing the taste of wine is a stretch often laughable. Yet it is expected from artists that their work can be spoken as well as seen. It is the gift of the poet to evoke verbally what is usually understood by other senses. It is expecting too much that the artist also be a poet, but such is her obligation. The results, it seems to me, more often than not will only subtract from the visual art.

Rather than speak of exploring in quasi scientific style or waxing sentimental about inspirations at the shore at age 6 with grandfather or referring to the symbolism, I prefer to think of the computer shorthand about art work: WYSIWYG. Like music, it resonates or it doesn't, regardless of intentions and stacks of meanings.

amos said...

The "self-labeled" bit is what freaks out squares like myself We imagine that we could have done the same thing ourselves, but of course we don't: we don't dare.
The artist becomes someone who dares, which is a form of creativity, I guess.

rtk said...

Yes, I think that *daring* might be the essence of making art. Any other word that comes to my mind is linked with some standard fault. It seems daring to me to express one's actual thought or vision without regard to standards. But it's not original if standards, which are formed from work already done, are used.

Re: Jean's statement about museum presentation's giving an aura of art to whatever is there. I looked at Monet's water lillies, followed the painting along the wall to the left, then left turn and before I could turn off my *art eyes* I was looking out the window at plain city variety dirty walls with genuine appreciation for their artistic merit. Yes, the beholder may very well have beauty in his eyes, put there by expectations from the museum.

Jean Kazez said...

rtk, What do you think of "sitting with Marina"? Interesting? Emperor's new clothes? Can't say without being there?

rtk said...

I would have liked to have been there. The pics, however, are likely the artistic expression of the photographer rather than a true sampling of the sitters. It is interesting that viewers are being asked to regard a fellow human as an object. We do that all the time, but formalized like this and in a museum, seeing the person as purely an aesthetic object is discomfiting, for sure. If the result is that we recognize when we do that outside the museum, then the *show* serves an admirable purpose.