My first exposure to non-traditional ideas on art came from Yoko Ono, unlike most Beatle fans I was fascinated with her work, it was weird, confusing, random and sometimes really “bad”. She managed to break all the rules I thought existed. Like most people I grew up thinking of beautiful oil paintings of landscapes were art and Ono threw all of that out the window for me.
In the early 1900s, Marcel Duchamp submitted a piece he called “Fountain” to an art exhibit in New York. Any artist was allowed to submit as long as they paid the six-dollar entry fee, but his was denied. The “Fountain” it turned out, was a urinal with some scribbles. Duchamp was told that his work was not only plagiarism, because he didn’t construct the plumbing, but also vulgar and disrespectful. Duchamp defended his work saying that he was, after all, responsible for the idea of the piece being in a new environment thus giving it a new artistic perspective.
In his article, The Creative Act, Duchamp said, bad art is still art, just like bad emotion is still emotion. He goes into depth about what he calls the “Art coefficient” which is the relationship between what the artist didn’t express but intended to and the unintended that was expressed by the artist. I assure you that it’s all very deep. Duchamp claimed that art is not performed all alone, but in contact with the spectator. Essentially the power of piece was in the relationship.
In high school I was in a play called Museum, by Tina Howe. The play takes place in an art museum with multiple contemporary installations and one of the installations is a series of four blank white canvases. Some spectators laugh at its ridiculousness (that’s the part I played), some claim it’s genius and fight over what genre it is and one character just can’t decide which is her favorite. The point being that the same piece of art can evoke a variety of emotions even if it’s just a blank canvas.
In the late 90s there was an installation called “My Bed” by Tracey Emin. This piece wasn’t necessarily unique, it was a stained messy bed with empty alcohol bottles and other items strewn about. According to BBC news, a south Wales housewife was so outraged at the mess that she drove 200 miles and brought cleaning products to the museum and was arrested for attempting to clean up the art installation.
An artist could only dream of evoking so much emotion with their work. The way I see it, any reaction, good or bad, is the result of successful art. It’s the indifference that artists should be afraid of.