Up for consideration, creative expression

August 2, 2008

Banging on a piano keyboard with canned hams might be cacophonous to some and it might appeal to the music lover in others. But is there a line something has to cross before it’s considered art?

Take the construction paper turkey you’ll be handed by your kids this Thanksgiving. Is that art? If so, is it worthy of display in a place other than your fridge? Would you fund a gallery exhibit to show that crayon creation to the well-heeled on Newbury Street?

If not, where’s the line?

Is the brand of baseball that Manny Ramirez plays artistic? It’s certainly not streamlined and efficient.

What about graffiti? People are killing each other over paint in Los Angeles this week, but in other areas of the world graffiti is an accepted form of artistic expression that doesn’t connote violence.

When I first entered the city of Paris by train, my hackles went up. Everywhere I looked there was a different spray-painted design. On walls, on buildings, on fences, on the ground, and even on the train in which I traveled.

“But this is Paris,” I thought. “THE city of culture and good taste and artistic expression. The Louvre is housed here for god’s sake.”

So I accepted graffiti as art for the first time in my life.

A recent Flickr photo taken by Steve Garfield challenged my established (at least for four years now) stance on graffiti as art. The shot was of a painted sidewalk in Steve’s neighborhood. Here’s the shot and a link to Steve’s Flickr account….

See the full-size version HERE.

See more of Steve’s work here.

In his description, he contends that the painting on the sidewalk isn’t art. Others comment as well and the field is currently leaning against Steve and toward paint anywhere as artistic expression.

But if we continue down that slope, are the highway passing lines art? What about sky-writers’ work? Where does it stop? Does art have to be the creation of one person? Does it have to be only in certain media or locations?

What about the people who dress in white and put on mime make-up and torture little kids in public parks? Aren’t they artists?

I know I’ve asked a lot of questions but the beauty I find in art is that it’s open to so much interpretation. For each piece of crap construction-paper turkey, there’s a creation that shines as the product of true talent.

And if the person who painted the sidewalk in Steve’s community goes on to have an exhibit at the MFA or MOMA, does that validate his earlier work? What about the person who ‘tagged’ the concrete underpass on the Mass Pike? What if the only thing he ever scrawls again is his name on his parole form…was that earlier work worthless?

Ultimately, the expression of an idea or concept or image is what many of us are trying to achieve. Whether we do it with ink or paint or word or electrons, nobody can take away the fulfillment we get from trying. And nobody but the creator of an expression can really say if they’re trying to create art or just some random markings on a sidewalk in Jamaica Plain.

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