Question Tuesday: Ugly Art

Oops! I nearly forgot. Silly Labor Day.

Every Tuesday morning we come together on Speak What We Feel to discuss various questions regarding faith and life to get to know each other and to sharpen one another, to grow in perspective and understanding. Today’s question is:

How do we engage with art we don’t like? Is it important for us to even bother? (See tomorrow’s post over at Thinking through Christianity to see what I think is one of the answers to this.)

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9 Responses to Question Tuesday: Ugly Art

  1. Emily says:

    Ahhhhhhhhh, Art. I’m irked constantly by the general public’s inability to value any art post-1945 or mention any female artists other than the big three: Cassatt, Kahlo, and O’Keeffe. If I see one more “Starry Night,” I just might loose my lunch. But, I have to remember that I daily, hourly, minutely engage art and absolutely love “weird” art like Jill Foley’s creatures and caves and Tom Friedman’s hair-based sculptures. And as an art educator, I have to remember most folks won’t grow past a 10 year-old’s “dawning realism” art development. So where does that leave me?

    Well, I indoctrinate all my 1403 students to reach out and enjoy awkward, weird art. Even gross art. Instead of running from depictions of zombies or poop-mobiles, we talk about why the artist (the kiddos in this case) chose to draw what they did. And if they can defend it, by all means, let the poop-mobile ride!! In learning about art, we can’t ignore the Western tradition of “beautiful art” (or Gardner’s list of Who’s Who in the art world), but we can add to that list non-Western art, post War art, feminist art, and shock of all shocks, artists that are currently making work, i.e. the contemporaries.

    I always think of Asher’s mother (of Potok’s “My Name is Asher Lev”) constantly asking, pleading for Asher to make pretty art, beautiful art. But in always wanting art to be beautiful, peaceful, or in the background, you’re really asking art to not really say anything. “Don’t challenge me. Don’t make me uncomfortable. Don’t ask me to think.”

    Christians for SURE need to be educated in contemporary art, because how can we have a legitimate push back against art like Serrano’s “Piss Christ” or other not-friendly-to-Christianity works when we have no words, no context, no insight into art? Or no artists that can create “Christian art” that doesn’t actually include representational imagery of Christ? Without knowledge of the nuances of conceptual art or artists outside of Thomas Kinkade, we become irrelevant in the dialogue and closed off from a whole population of people needing to be engaged by the body of Christ.

    • reneamac says:

      That last paragraph is money. Straight. Up. Money.

      I also appreciate your commentary on the ideological effects of the World Wars and feminism and the role of art as challenger.

  2. Rhett & Valerie says:

    What she said!

    I think one of the challenges of art is sometimes that it literally isn’t around us the way a book or a piece of music is… you have to go out and find it, often in a gallery, and for lots of people, that’s too much effort, I suppose. It’s hard to engage when you don’t even know it’s out there.

    There just seems to be a bigger disconnect between installation/visual art and the people, it seems. At least in the way of “high art”. But I suppose the same is true with lots of music, and even, if you’re in a really rural/poor environment, books. That’s just my personal observation.

    • reneamac says:

      Good point. It also rings true for film. What if we were proactive in incorporating this sort of thing in our Sunday school curricula? You know, like Shaefferian worldview stuff. Now that would be “radical.”

  3. yes, we need to engage with the arts, even the ones we don’t like, because the world around us is engaged with the various mediums that the creative brain finds to express itself…how do we do so? i try to go with an open mind (no, you don’t have to like it, but if you are open to new expressions, you might have an opportunity to talk about God-stuff, an opportunity you might not have if you walk up with a judgmental attitude). I ask God to show me something beautiful and/or good in the work and choose to praise Him for what He shows me. I sat in a crowded jazz bar in San Francisco this past weekend and listened to music that’s not my favorite and choosec to pray for those around me that seemed in need of a desperate touch from a loving God and give thanks for a couple (enjoying the same band with friends/family) who had entered into a commitment of marriage that same day in a world that doesn’t really value the institute of marriage. Plus, I was able to continue to spend some quality time with one of my favorite people 🙂

    • reneamac says:

      Good point! An open mind (and heart) is key. Visual Post-War art that we don’t understand right off usually has a story/biography behind it, and if we’re willing to learn something of the piece’s context, we’ll generally enjoy/appreciate the piece more because we understand it better. But we have to be willing to learn, and we can’t learn with closed, judgmental minds. Moral of the story? Do the audio tour.

  4. Joshua says:

    I’m gonna come from the other end, and suggest it isn’t all that important. And that much of art appreciation, as the first commenter so aptly demonstrated, is nothing more than grounds for self-appointed arbitrators to demonstrate their own pretentiousness.

    I’m not suggesting folks aren’t greatly impoverished by their aesthetic taste; however, if we’re gonna criticize that, then maybe we should a) acknowledge the rich contribution of contemporary Christian artist instead of join in the diatribe b) recognize and show enough respect for others that they have a little more than a 10-year old appreciation and c) watch out that we don’t overstate our own case in art’s significance. Otherwise, we risk being irrelevant in the dialogue and closed off from a whole population of people needing to be engaged by art. Isn’t that the flip side of whining?

    I’m also wondering why the hell you wrote linked a post half of which is about Chagall to a post called “Ugly Art”. 😛

    • reneamac says:

      Thanks, Josh; this is an important exhortation for balance and grace. Makoto Fujimura comes to mind as a contemporary Christian visual artist who is richly contribuiting to the art world.

      So… maybe the link was mostly a shameless plug. 😉 Since obviously much of Chagall’s work is beautiful (and considered beautiful by those who’ve seen it).

  5. Joshua. says:

    Hey, I’m not complaining.

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