Tuesday, March 17, 2015

What makes art art?

by Sofia Squittieri, Writing Intern

Why is conceptual poetry considered poetry? Why can a white canvas be art? What is the difference between modern art and leg pulling?

According to Kenneth Goldsmith--American poet--in conceptual writing “the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work.” It is, as Goldsmith says, “purposeless.” It is not created to appeal to feelings, to find an "authentic" sense to the composition. The talent is not in the poet as craftsman but in the thinking about what has never been thought before. In conceptual writing, less can be more. The art relies on simplification--being able to see where everyone is blind. Goldsmith refers to this in his Paragraphs On Conceptual Writing:

Some ideas are logical in conception and illogical perceptually. The ideas need not be  complex. Most ideas that are successful are ludicrously simple. Successful ideas generally have the appearance of simplicity because they seem inevitable. In terms of ideas the writer is free even to surprise herself. [...] The work of literature can be perceived only after it is completed.

So, in conceptual writing, the idea is more important than the writing. The more original the idea, the better the writing. One example could also be flarf poetry. Flarf poetry uses the internet to create poetry--a Google search becomes a piece of art. Flarf transforms already read text from the web into poetry.

Creating something new--breaking the stereotype--attracts criticism, the worst kind. Andy Warhol's pop art was heavily criticized initially; he painted what he loved--Campbell's Soup and Marilyn Monroe. Critics responded that his paintings could be easily copied by anyone who has two hands. It could have been done before, but no-one had this idea before. And if someone did think of it, it was never fully realized. Andy Warhol ignored convention and created a new way of communicating. However, it's only art because originality drives it.

Today, Citizen Cane seems mundane. But it was praised for innovation in music, photography, writing, and structure. To fully appreciate it as art, you must first watch films produced before it. Innovation is key.

It can be easy to imitate. New views and new perspectives take something more. That makes the difference. Christian Bök wrote a poem called Eunoia. He gathered all of the words in the English language that contained only one of the five vowels in its spelling and then composed five different poems--one for each vowel--using all of those words. It doesn't makes sense, but it is really fun to read. I feel the work and struggle behind the poem.

Writing is inhibiting. Sighing, I sit, scribbling in ink
this pidgin script. I sing with nihilistic witticism,
disciplining signs with trifling gimmicks – impish
hijinks which highlight stick sigils. Isn’t it glib?
Isn’t it chic? I fit childish insights within rigid limits,
writing shtick which might instill priggish misgiv-
ings in critics blind with hindsight. I dismiss nit-
picking criticism which flirts with philistinism. I
bitch; I kibitz – griping whilst criticizing dimwits,
sniping whilst indicting nitwits, dismissing simplis-
tic thinking, in which philippic wit is still illicit.

“Artist’s Shit” (1961), by Piero Manzoni, consists of 90 tin cans filled with 30 grams of feces, with a label in four different languages (Italian, English, French, and German). The label reads: “Artist's Shit / Contents 30 gr net / Freshly preserved / Produced and tinned in May 1961.” This piece was considered art. Anyone can defecate in a can, but no one did it before Piero Manzoni. And no-one sold 30 grams of poop for the value of 30 grams of gold before he did. He defended his work and proved its artistic value. Don't go grab cans now. We've been there and done that. Innovate. Be novel.  Maybe, poop in a shoe. It could happen.
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