Knowledge Questions: What is art? What is the role of the artist’s intentions when interpreting art?
Discovering uncharted sounds became Cage’s trademark. Where other composers heard noise, he heard potential. Pots. Drum brakes. Rubber duckies. It wasn’t provocation; it was necessity. The world was brimming with sounds musicians had never used before—it was as if all the world’s painters had agreed to restrict themselves to only a few colors. Cage heard every squeak and honk as a possible ingredient for music…
People thought 4’33” was a joke or some kind of avant-garde nose-thumbing. During a post-concert discussion, as Cage biographer David Revill notes, one local artist stood up and suggested, “Good people of Woodstock, let’s drive these people out of town.”
In the Maverick that night, one could likely hear the sound of the breeze in the trees, rain pattering lightly on the rooftop, the chirping of crickets, a dog barking aimlessly somewhere in the distance, the sound of bodies shifting their weight on creaky pine benches, the sound of breath being drawn and being expired.
This was music for John Cage. And unlike compositions designed to make the outside world fall away, here was a music that, when it engaged you, made the present world open up like a lotus blossoming in stop-motion photography. It was all very much in keeping with Cage’s Zen world view, which emphasized the power of unmediated experience and direct perception of what Cage called the “isness” of life.
“Not only are they dull and predictable, but the artistic skill of many of the big names in contemporary art is suspect. Behind the grandiose pieces and the attention grabbing works created purely for shock value lies a very important question: “Where is the skill and ability in all this?” No skill is required to place a rotting cows head in a glass cube with an insect-o-cutor (A Thousand Years by Damien Hirst). No ability is needed to set up a room with a light that switches on and off (Work No. 227: The Lights Going On and Offby Martin Creed, a work that won him the Turner Prize). It is most probably the case that the electrician who installed said lights and the abattoir worker who severed the cow’s head possess more skill and expertise than either Mr. Hirst or Mr. Creed.”
“Conceptual art gets a bad rap. It’s the butt of endless jokes. Works of this genre that were nominated for the high honor of the Turner Prize were called BS by the U.K. culture minister. Shia Labeouf used it as an excuse to put a bag over his head. So why is conceptual art so confounding? How do curators make it palatable? And what are we even talking about when we talk about “conceptual art”?”
“If you’re puzzled by what is considered a work of art, you’re not the only one. Even art critics wonder about the four shortlisted nominees for the prestigious Turner Prize, which will be given out on December 7.”
“So you look at a work of art and think to yourself, I could have done that. And maybe you really could have, but the issue here is more complex than that — why didn’t you? Why did the artist? And why does it have an audience? We delve into it by looking at work by artists like Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Piet Mondrian, and Cy Twombly, among others. You might find it’s not quite as simple as you think.”
“Green uses the work of artist Piet Mondrian as an example. She prompts you to really contemplate creating the smooth, balanced, crisp lines of his De Stijl paintings. Could you map out the framework of “Composition II in Red, Blue, and Yellow,” mix the paint colors, and painstakingly apply the oil on canvas? Could you then hand over the artwork to a gallerist, curator or buyer, and await the criticism that will inevitably come your way? Could you defend and explain your decisions to writers and curious observers, maybe even ponder the idea of questioning your own motives and engaging in real conversations about what it means to express yourself, your ideas or the ideas and perspectives of others in creative ways?”