Monday, March 23, 2009

What Is Art?

Art is everywhere…if one takes the time to look for it.

Example Number One:
This excellent slide show on Slate magazine examines the architecture of Detroit and finds beauty amidst the ruins:

“Between 1910 and 1920, Detroit doubled in size and became America's fourth-largest city. Thanks to the auto industry, it was a prosperous place, which is evident in the quality of the architecture. When the city of Highland Park, where Ford built the first assembly line, needed a library, for example, it commissioned New Yorker Edward Lippincott Tilton, who built libraries in Washington, D.C.; Wilmington, Del.; Springfield, Mass.; and Manchester, N.H. Tilton apprenticed with McKim, Mead, & White and trained at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, and in most cities, his delicate brand of American Renaissance would be considered an architectural treasure; this building has been boarded up since 2002.”

The whole piece, by Witold Rybczynski, is worth checking out here if you—like me—have an odd fondness for industrial cities.

For an even artsier view of Detroit’s industrial past, check out the work of photographer Michael Kenna, in his book, The Rouge, about the big Ford plant. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any of the Rouge photos online, but do look through Kenna’s archive of work here—so many stunning images.

Example Number Two:
Improv Everywhere, a fun, vaguely subversive performance/improve group based in New York City, recently created an art gallery opening on a subway platform, complete with coat check, tuxedoed waiters passing out sparkling cider disguised as champagne, a cellist, and art…which they created by posting art-speak plaques next to various fixtures on the subway platform.

For example, this was posted near a pay phone:

“Telephone Line (2002)
Metropolitan Transit Authority in collaboration with Telecom

This homage to the urgency of communication is meant to highlight the recent necessity, from instant to instant, to maintain the potential for instantaneous, world-wide contact from any location, at any time. That a conversation from such a location would be abruptly interrupted by an arriving train suggests the artist’s intent to lampoon the perceived dependence on telecommunication.”

Unsurprisingly, one of the participants reported that it was easy to get caught up in the spirit of the event:

“In the course of making the art labels, the mundane stuff of the platform really did become weirdly compelling and beautiful. I wasn’t sure if everyone else would have that experience, or if we would be busy consciously pretending that these random objects were art. In the course of the event, some other friends who came made brilliant observations about the pieces that helped bring my mindset firmly back into of-course-this-is-art, rather than viewing the subway as a collection of quick fixes over time. It’s wonderful how we can decide to create a collective reality, and how it can sometimes catch us up within itself.”

Read the whole report (and see pictures and video) here.


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.