Archive for February, 2011

Yoko Ono says,  she constructs  her compositions—visual and musical–with the intention of leaving them incomplete in order to involve the audience. The audience is an essential component of the art itself.   This comes out of a Romantic sensibility. We don’t find this respect for the audience in Classical art, where a fixed idea, myth or dogma determines the approach and the outcome.  The Classical and the Romantic form two polarities that are already evident in our earliest cultural documents. The Classical sensibility dominated for most of Western history—until about 1800, when Romantic movements in all the arts changed the conversation.  Or rather, the relationship between artist and audience changed so that the artist no longer delivered a sermon but engaged the audience in a conversation.

This is not to say, that the Romantic idea fell out of the blue.  Rembrandt and Velazquez, in the 17th century, are Romantic sensibilities.  But we can trace this sensibility all the way back to the ancient Greeks.  Socrates, specifically.  He was a philosopher and teacher and he made an art out of teaching, an art in the Romantic sense.  The Socratic Method of getting a point across is to not get the point across at all, but to pose a question.  The student then delves into the question which leads to deeper questions and through this “conversation” the student reaches insight and understanding.  Socrates, the teacher withholds the information deliberately, all the while pretending he doesn’t know the answer. This withholding is called Socratic Irony.

Romantic Irony is similar.  The Romantic artist exposes the process by which the work came about.  Or rather, comes about, since it is never finished.   The Romantic poets around 1800 left their poems unfinished.  The “truth” of the art work was not given (as by inspiration) but an open question and a matter of infinite longing.   This Romantic sensibility is also the Modern sensibility.  This is why Shakespeare and the mature Michelangelo speak to us so immediately– as if they were our contemporaries.

John Lennon walked into a gallery one day and had to climb a ladder if he wanted to see the art that was attached to the ceiling.  He felt he had to meet this artist, who engaged him in conversation this way. That was Yoko Ono.

Yolo Ono’s birthday was February 18th. See also “Fluxus,”  posted January  11.

Images shown:

Yoko Ono. Caricature by Katherine Hilden, 2011

Rembrandt, Self-portrait, 1626

Michelangelo, Rondanini Pieta, 1552.






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Not Being Creative

At a 12-year-old’s birthday last weekend, I drew all the kids.   Since we had time left over, I drew one of the girl’s aunts.  She was not very auntie-like, more like a very self-assured, stylish 23-year old.  Part of my job is to make people comfortable and I know sitting there and being stared at isn’t sociable.  So, I chat and ask every day sorts of questions.  In fact, I had been asking kids for their age all evening and so, out of habit,  I asked her too;  that was awkward, but she was gracious.  Anyway, I asked my usual stuff,  like…and  what do you do, Emily.  Oh, she said, she was working  for an investment company now, to cover her tuition so that she could go back to school.  She was going to study public health at George Washington U.   Very serious work, very honorable, I said, or something like that.  Then she said, she wished she could do something creative like me.  She seemed very serious about that.  Well, I said, you probably do something creative.  No, she said, nothing, nothing at all, can’t do anything.  I’m drawing all the while this little conversation is going on.  She had perfect makeup and a smart, magazine-worthy haircut that I needed to get down.  Without interrupting my work, I said very softly, what’s it like, not being creative.  Boring, she said.




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