Ok. I’m gonna ask the question. What is art?
I ask this because I’m really not sure. I also ask this because of this photo that just won the World Press Photo of the Year. And because Damian Hurst. And Marcel Duchamp. Oh, and Andy Warhol and so on. But mostly the image by Burhan Ozbilici of Andrei Karlov, immediately after shooting and killing the Russian ambassador to Turkey, at an art gallery. Now I’ve seen some bad exhibitions before but…
In truth, the image is extraordinary. It is extraordinary because of the naked violence, the freshly shot man, the rage of the shooter, the gesture of righteousness, finger extended in triumph, his face handsome and well-fitted suit. It’s almost a movie set. But perhaps what makes it so disturbing is not just the image but the time it expresses. A minute, or possibly seconds before or after would have been infinitely less impactful. It is how this image expresses time that is its impact. Showing the moment of the ambassador being shot would have been far less disturbing. And this naked celebration of violence chills us. Because it is the world we live in now.
Is that why it’s art? Is it art? Can it be art because it moves us? This particular image has an impact on almost anybody. What about a still life? Or Damian Hurst’s “Pharmacy”? Is it not art if I’m not moved by it? So am I the one who makes that determination?
My answer is yes. For me, it is only me who can tell. Is it still true if I totally misinterpret it? I recently went to an exhibition with my friend. We both saw the same thing and had opposite interpretations. I saw it as a fictional myth, she, as a truth. But we both loved it. I for its inventiveness, she for its storytelling. Who cares.
In the end, who cares. In the end, I am the furthest thing from an art critic. I am an experiencer of things in a way that only really works for me. For example, I don’t like reggae. I am often reviled for disliking the most internationally loved musical genre in human history. But what am I gonna do? Lie? Or should I impose my opinion on others? Mock them for their internal experience? That’s absurd.
Can you really judge someone for their own opinion? That seems a bit crazy. If they took mine, it would not be theirs anymore. So, if you do that in art, do you do it elsewhere? Maybe art can be a great way to learn how to be OK with things you don’t like. It can be a great way to try to see things through other’s eyes. Why is it so well liked? What do others see? Maybe art can be a gateway drug to empathy. It’s a pretty safe environment to consider what others think and feel. Then maybe you can go out into the world and practice with music, or fashion, or lifestyle or philosophy or religion or politics. Imagine how cool that would be to just be ok with difference and not try to impose it on others. Cause that is kinda absurd.
So if you like art, that means it’s good. And if you think it’s good, buy it. So says Potato Mike.