Tuesday 14 April 2009

Art is the event

I made a tactical error in my Easter reading mission, and started off with the thickest book on my pile, instead of the thinnest. Thus by the end of the weekend I had polished off Neal Stephenson's Anathem, but only got to chapter 3 ("The Fair") of Sarah Thornton's Seven Days in the Art World.

The division between practice and theory, do-ers and thinkers, in Anathem got me thinking about Barnett Newman's epigram “Aesthetics is for the artist as ornithology is for the birds.”* I've yet to have that kind of connection through Thornton's book - and I think I may it to the end of the book without doing so, much in the way I enjoyed but didn't have to think very hard about Adam Lindeman's Collecting Contemporary.

However this morning I stumbled over a link to this 2005 piece by Philip de Montebello in the comments on a blog post, and had one of those reflecting moments, much like the Stephenson/Newman one, where someone says or writes something that sits you back on your heels:

Another reason art museums matter is that, unlike historical facts and events, works of art exist not only in the present, but also in the past, the past that transmitted them to us. Events, on the other hand, can be retraced but they have no presence; we can't experience them. Archives and documents refer to events but are not they. However, the work of art, as Bernard Berenson put it, is the event.

Aptly, the blog post in question, by Nina Simon, was an argument for why cultural institutions should be taking a measured, but serious, approach towards social media:

Whereas the Web of the 2000s was dominated by search, we are entering a time when more and more people are using social media as their gateway to the Web. Ask a college student what her homepage is, and you are likely to see Facebook, not Google, pop up on her screen.

... For people who are deeply immersed in social media, social networks are already a much heavier influence on personal choices--where to visit, what concert to attend--than traditional advertising. Which means that your organization's website--a brochure out in the wilderness of the Web--is only going to remain relevant and useful as a marketing piece if it is being referenced in the social context of your users' lives.

*It was a bit of a relief to find out that this quip was a honed version of a much longer statement - I'm always reading interviews and memoirs and being bewildered by the elegant bon mots that people apparently toss off unthinkingly as they saunter through life. It's nice to know we can edit for posterity.


staplegun said...

Wot? You mean the online world now works just like the offline world? So I have to work as hard online to get my message out amongst networks of people as I do in the real world? What's the point of technology if it doesn't make my life any easier? :]

staplegun said...

So, art isn't just (self) expression, it also captures expression (well, the kind of art that caters for playback multiple times anyway). I too will need to reflect on that further.

Courtney Johnston said...

On your last point, from Peter Schjeldahl's 'New Yorker' review of a book on the art forger Han van Meegeren:

"... superior forgeries typically secrete subliminally up-to-the-minute associations, which pass, at first blush, as signs of “timeless” genius. The art historian Max Friedländer, who said, "Forgeries must be served hot," promulgated a forty-year rule—four decades or so being how long it takes for the modern nuances of a forgery to date themselves as clichĂ©s of the period in which they were painted."