Contemporary Art and My Problem with "Supposed-To"

By: leelefever on January 2, 2007 - 3:40pm

 I wrote this just before coming home and it's hard for me to post it because I don't want to sound completely ignorant of art. I think my feelings are related to a distaste for the art critic establishment (or what I know of it).  

I suppose you’ll say I’m shallow, or cynical or lack sophistication, but I am not moved by the majority of contemporary art I’ve seen lately – particularly multimedia art.  Yesterday we went to MACBA (Barcelona’s contemporary art museum) and I left exasperated and with a crinkled brow after seeing slideshows, films, photos and sculptures that, aside from the meaning assigned to it, seemed to mean or symbolize very little for me.  I think I’m growing tired of feeling like I’m supposed to feel, see or “get” something that I simply don’t.

Over the past year, we’ve both tried to take a de-mystified look at the world we’ve seen and I think it has extended to art in some cases.  This means looking at something in terms of what we really see or feel and not what we’re supposed to see or feel. In MACBA, it frustrated me to read the cards by an art expert or the artist that decodes the artist for the layman. An actual example:

Though his oeuvre is difficult to classify in one specific tendency, it possesses a significant conceptual component that expresses displacement and lack of communication and thus a negation of the very existence of contemporary society.

Oh, I get it now. He is negating the existence of contemporary society.

For multimedia art, I don’t want to have to be told that there is a statement about the world hidden in the slides of suburban Reykjavik.  To me, it looks like a slideshow of houses in Iceland. That is, of course, until I’m again enlightened via a laminated card about the piece. 

Aside from the artist’s peers, art critics and the artists own statements, I wonder how meaning or statements would be derived?  How closely would the artist’s vision of the piece translate to those of us that operate outside the art world?  And, if meaning is only derived from those privileged few, does it matter that I don’t get it?   Is it even supposed to have meaning for me? 

Here’s an example.  This is a 22 second video from a Tokyo subway station.  Is it art?  Does it affect you?  What does the experience of this piece make you feel about the world?

Now, consider the exact same video.  Only this time, consider this statement:

The artist is clearly making a statement about the closed and oppressed nature of Japanese society. The commuters are being closed off from the rest of the world - even as they are squeezed from every side to fit in behind society’s closing doors.  It makes painfully clear the nature of the Japanese experience.

OK, maybe you see it a little differently now, maybe not. You know what though?  This is what I was thinking when I shot this video – er, this was my vision for this piece:

I wonder if this is rude to video these people? Man, that train is crowded.  I’ve really got to hold this camera still.  Oh look, she’s wearing mask - that will be interesting.  They are so quiet.  It is ever going to leave?  I’m getting hungry.

My point is to illustrate how a lot of the contemporary art we’ve seen makes me feel by assigning extraordinary meaning to a video that was never intended to have deep meaning in the first place – it is just a video of people on the subway – right?

Perhaps I lack depth, intellect or an eye for art, but some of it just doesn’t move me and I’m not going to pretend that it does just because its how I’m suppose to feel. The art establish may agree that a piece is a statement about transcendence of gender roles in urban civilizations, but to me, it’s still just pictures of old people in a park. And I am OK with that.

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Hiroshima Peace Park and Peace Memorial Museum

By: leelefever on May 14, 2006 - 6:18am


At 8:15AM on August 6th, 1945, the US dropped the world’s first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan in an effort to force the country to surrender at the end of World War II.  The bomb was detonated about 600 meters over the city, instantly killing 10’s of 1000’s of people and destroying 95% of the buildings within a 1.5 mile radius of the blast.  Since the event, over 250,000 lives have been claimed by the bomb and/or the devastating aftereffects of exposure to radiation.


Today, the Peace Park and Hiroshima Memorial Peace Museum stand nearly directly under the hypocenter of the bomb.  The museum is very well designed, informative and answered nearly every question I had about the mind-blowing ferocity and destruction of the atomic bomb as well as the events in history that governed the decision to use it.


More than anything, the museum serves as a somber and emotional reminder of the destructive and devastating power of atomic or nuclear weapons- weapons that many in Japan are working to have destroyed.

We highly recommend a visit to the museum and park.  Admission is is less than US$.50 (yes- 50 cents) and don't recommend the audio tour (US$2.60) which adds little to the text with each exhibit.

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