The Finer Things
The Eye Of The Beholder
Published: Monday, December 3, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01
With each and every review I’ve done for this section, I’ve been forced to question my preconceived notions of art. While wandering down the galleries of the Linde Family Contemporary Wing (LFCW), while sitting through the 2012 Fall Program by the Boston Ballet, and even, believe it or not, while listening to the sophomore album release from One Direction, the broadly vague and philosophically provocative question, “What is art?” inevitably resonated through my thoughts, compelling me to look a little closer, listen a little harder, and think a little deeper when I sat down to pen my reviews.}
And though, at this point, I’ve written an immense number of articles on so many different things, I’m no closer to determining a concise definition of the question that incessantly plagues me. Now, I’m no expert in aesthetics, and I don’t claim to be some unequivocal master of the arts, but as an arts staff columnist, I’m undeniably in a position to have my artistic thoughts, ideas, and sentiments widely dispersed. So, I can’t help but feel pressured to offer my readers something of substance. How can I do so, though, if I don’t even know what art precisely is?
It was over a year ago now, but I remember the very first assignment that I picked up for The Heights, and I recall how it immediately challenged me with this problematic question about art’s definition. A firmly established believer in the beauty of the “Mona Lisa” smile, I really thought that classic, traditional art, such as Da Vinci’s, was the standard by which all art should be measured. My artistic perceptions, however, quickly changed the moment I came across a strange, silver sphere just resting on the floor of the Museum of Fine Arts’ LFCW. As I orbited around the cold, unwelcoming piece, I tried to discover its meaning—if it had one at all— but the harder I tried, the deeper I was pulled into its purposeless void. I walked away from it feeling universally dissatisfied.
How could a metallic globe, simply floating in its own oblivion, possess any form of artistic significance to me? I remember thinking of Andy Warhol, who was also featured in the exhibit, and how he once said, “Art is what you can get away with.” Was this work art, then, just because it “got away with” finding itself a home in one of the most prestigious fine arts museums in the country? Maybe. But who was I to judge?
Sure, I have the honored position of being an arts editor, but does that make my opinion on modern art, on music, on film, or even on dance, any more valuable or relevant than anyone else’s? Everyone’s heard the cliche: “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” All art is relative. I recall my confusion upon seeing the avant-garde choreography of the Boston Ballet’s Fall Program. As the group of ballerinas moved rigidly to a cacophony of discordant orchestral notes, I regarded each individual, decisive step they made, but I couldn’t comprehend the meaning of the performance as a whole. Perhaps, however, someone else did understand its beauty. After all, opinion neither negates nor creates art.
Opinion, rather, is a vital, inseparable aspect of art. Without it, Oscar Wilde would indeed be right in proclaiming, “All art is quite useless.” Art relies on its audience as well as their dissenting reactions. Thus, while I thought that there was some degree of artfulness to be found in One Direction’s Take Me Home, someone else, obviously, may not have. But that’s what makes it, like the Contemporary Wing or the Fall Program, worthy of being called art.
I still can’t explicitly define art. Is it beauty? Truth? Abstraction? And I can’t provide a rubric by which to measure its worth either. All I can do is ensure its utility—so long as it inspires the writing and reading of this very column, it’ll never be useless. Hence, art, if nothing else, is a conversation: an open, inspired invitation into a worthwhile discussion. Maybe by the time my year on The Heights is through, I’ll be able to suggest an actual definition, but until then, the best I can do is to just revel in, and write about, the diversity and beauty of everything that could possibly be characterized as art.