State of the Arts

Victoria Ward

“Time is very slow for those who wait
Very fast for those who are scared
very long for those who lament
Very short for those who celebrate
But for those who love time is eternal”
William Shakespeare

While watching the global art phenomenon The Clock at the Power Plant on Thanksgiving weekend I was reminded of how much people need art put into context for them. The droves of people lining up to see Christian Marclay’s video extravaganza is a lesson in clarity that all members of the art world could use, especially now since art has almost nowhere else to go.

Oh, the hubris in that last line is really too, too much. Art can still go everywhere and new technologies and the like are creating mediums that we can’t even dream of yet. But, I do think that much discussion of art these days is usually two opposing forces: one is an esoteric and pretentious dialogue made for those in the know and the other veers far too much into the vernacular. Art is often dumbed down so as to not be opaque, there is no middle ground.

I’ve never understood much art talk because like dentists or engineers at conventions, a lot of it dwells on intense inward thinking. Go to a convention for any niche and unless you understand that world, you will be lost and needing navigation to get through the machinations of why and how the world exists. Most cultural realms offer tools of navigation, and openly communicate their need for public input. The art world is only now slowly coming to realize how effective this can be.

Along comes The Clock, the premise, execution and presentation are nothing short of excellent. It is a truly enjoyable art piece. It’s obviousness is what is so entrancing; it presents film clips from everywhere that show the exact time that you are actually viewing it in. Some clips are funny, some prescient and depending on your mood, you can sit for hours or get antsy quickly. I watched it at around 2pm so most of the clips were daytime clips and there seem to be a lot of them showing people engaging in inappropriate intoxication, or tempting too. What is it about 2pm and wanting a drink anyway?

Time is an everyman philosophical conundrum. We all think about it a lot, hence the wild success of The Clock. Perhaps it’s a satire on how we compartmentalize our lives and time. I like to think of it this way because there is a tiny bit of insecurity about viewing an artwork that depicts time via bits and pieces of cinema, creating thematic ideas that essentially state how predictable we all are. Movies already reflect us in our humdrum extremes, shattered into fragments as in The Clock, we become shreds of time watchers.

The Clock did get me thinking about how being online parcels out time with as much obviousness as the video does. Since our media is now coalesced by trending words and phrases, memes and brand recognition, and actual time spent, our time, in the larger sense is now filtered through hashtags and likes. Our activities are parceled into time bits.

The recent vandalism of a Rothko at the Tate Modern in London was put into a context by a few writers that reflected our need for speedy assessments and status updates; art is for rich people and that’s why it gets vandalized. Rothko’s are now considered the most expensive paintings on the planet, one having sold for a record sum. However Rothko’s work resides in the Tate where you can see it for free. This simple approach regarding the why of the vandalism doesn’t hold water.

These Rothko’s were apparently moved recently. When I saw them they were in their own room deep inside the Tate. Could their protected ‘vault’ have saved them from this dabasement?

Paintings take long periods of time to make and long periods of time to appreciate. They don’t fit into our neat sound bite lives. In fact most of the greatest work can take several visits over years to take hold on the soul. Making work about the eternal which is what Rothko had repeatedly said he wanted to do can’t be summed up in flippant statements and easy answers.

The thing is the vandal, an artist who tries to ingratiate himself into other artist’s fortunate moments of celebrity, didn’t do it to make a point about class warfare. He did it to get his name in the news feed that we all seem to succor. He wanted his 149 character moment of fame.

Putting art in context for audiences is a very good idea but shredding it down to a topical and shallow discussion can debase the work as much as any vandal. Discussions about art do need to be lifted up from the introversion it seems to be settled in but you have to be careful not to sully its significance with the drab tedium of day to day experiences. Having stood in front of many Rothko’s I can say that my surroundings ceased to exist and that time can in fact stop.

Thoughtful Guardian blogger Jonathan Jones weighs in on the Rothko vandalism.

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