A glass of water please

August 1, 2007

A Glass of Water Please?
Because The Art Isn’t Getting Me Drunk.

It bothers me that I go to see exhibitions but that I have no noteworthy reaction: no adrenaline or heart-skipping, no shock and awe. For some time now I have been blaming the art, but I’m beginning to think that’s misplaced. Maybe this isn’t just a dry period before the coming utopia of amazing, passion-inducing artworks that blow my mind.

Maybe an emotional reaction isn’t particularly authentic anymore; it may be wrong to even assume it could be had from art. I’ve been asking the work for emotional tourism, and it isn’t serving up the flights.

When I think back to my favorite discoveries of the past few years, they weren’t actually emotional or accompanied by any of that sublime business. Rather they made me think a lot, forced reevaluation, reorientation and a cascade of new ideas. In a few cases, Gelitin’s Sweatwat included, I got a big ol’ fun-buzz but it wasn’t fizzy, more electrical, a stimulus to learn something.

I suspect this perception is part of what fans the flames of the “is dead” phenomena in art theory. But art isn’t dead just because no one cries in front of paintings anymore.

That’s not to say you can’t find emotion in the experience of art, it’s just that you need to whip it up yourself. It’s nice to get a little scandalous with some Chapman gore – just like it’s refreshing to go to a sappy movie for a good cry. But it’s no longer realistic to fall to your knees in awe in front of printed matter or whatever the kids are doing these days, and, anyways, we’re too savvy. We should, and instinctively do, know better.

And I’m beginning to think that when we do encounter interesting things the challenge really is to know a bit better, to just plain take it in and think on it. It isn’t dramatic, it’s a more sober experience than the highfalutin’ sublime and those romantic highs-and-lows. But we don’t need to go to Tahiti to have a good time.

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