Marks and Remarks
Food for the Mind and Eye

No. 0136, August 18, 2017


  It Don't Mean a Thing
  (If It's Out of Context)

     New York City assemblage (found objects) No. 56

Copyright 2017 by S.W. Paul Wyszkowski

     Once upon a time, a modern Artist (with the capital "A") named Robert Rauschenberg, having forgotten that he undertook to provide a portrait of an Art patroness (whose name I forget - let's call her 'X') for an exhibition of her portraits and there being no time to paint one, sent instead a telegram with the following text: "This is a portrait of 'X' if I say it is." Artists with capital "A" can do that ever since Duchamp (another modern capital "A" Artist) asserted the divine right of Artists to declare what is or is not Art. We, who are not Artists and lack the divinely bestowed and exquisitely educated sensibilities of an Artist, have no say in this matter even if we know what we like (or dislike) when we see it. As for Art critics, nowadays they accept the Artists' word absolutely and write erudite essays incomprehensible to all but other Art critics.

     There are Artists and Artists, as different from one another as regular people are and I certainly do not wish to paint them all with the same broad brush. Furthermore, I have no doubt of the sincerity of Artists and Art critics in general. Actually, I believe Artists are some of the most sincere people in the world, along with poets, prophets and young lovers. The point I wish to make is that sincerity is not enough. A case in point: the abovementioned Rauschenberg. Though known and praised (by the critics) for his use of common materials like everyday trash and miscellaneous found objects in his assemblages, his art is actually indigestible to the untutored common folk. Who does actually appreciate (or pretends to) Rauschenberg's disruptive Art? The Art critics and an aesthetic elite of museum-goers, most of the latter, I suspect, secretly bewildered by what they are looking at.

     "Maybe that's the whole point," suggests Prickles, our resident Art critic and an undisputed hedgehog. "Maybe Rauschenberg was trying to provoke the public into new ways of seeing, thinking and feeling? Maybe you are irritated because you feel threatened when faced with genius beyond your capacity for understanding?" Prickles, you just made my point. I think I am no dumber than an average member of the public. If I have to be a genius or at least a Master of Fine Arts to appreciate Rauschenberg's creations then his Art has failed to communicate with me and, I am pretty sure, most of my fellow commoners. Unless, of course, you are prepared to argue that I am exceptionally dim and insensitive which, I grant you, might actually be the case.

     As I see it, what is missing here is common language and common aesthetic. Despite his use of common materials, Rauschenberg was not a common man. He was an Artist's Artist communicating and collaborating with the likes of Jasper Johns and Cy Twombly both of them (along with many others) also incomprehensible to the general public. Within the context of the ideas and idioms current in his artistic milieu I assume Rauschenberg's works make some kind of obvious sense but hanging on a museum wall accompanied by factual but unenlightening notes, their meaning is lost to me. He was a prominent personality among his contemporaries and influenced many other Artists. I can't say he has done much for me besides inspiring this essay. I do appreciate his eye for composition and color and I find some of his pieces interesting and even appealing as a species of eye candy. Even more I like his political exertions towards making Art a unifying, border transcending force to bring people of all nations together. How well he succeeded in that I shall leave to historians to judge. As for his Art's intent, that misses my head and heart altogether. "Here's a hanky to wipe your tears," says Prickles.


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