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I call it "crap that fell off the pile as I carried it to the curb." It's listed for five hundred dollars.

by doyce at 10:14 AM on June 26, 2003

So, in Boulder Colorado some students put together an 'art piece' set to go on display at the city's downtown library.

The plan was delayed just a bit, however, since the assembly crew had to dig the whole thing out of the garbage, which is where the library's janitor dumped it.

"I don't know art, but I know what I'm supposed to do with crap like that" the janitor (named Ed or Tom or Jim or something down-to-earth and honest) might have commented. "I mean, Christ on a Crutch, I barely made it through high school and these damn kids are upping their college GPA by dumping a pile of crap in the entryway and putting a sign behind it. I'm in the wrong damn job, I guess -- I've been taking trash away for the last twenty-odd years."

"This is a slightly different kind of art," said Karen Ripley, director of cultural programs. "It's not meant to be beautiful."

"You got that right, sister." Our fictitious but brutally, stunningly honest janitor might have muttered from the back the room. "Now, do you want to pick up the coffee cups from this press conference or bronze the motherfuckers? Morons."

comments (12)

Two parables: 1.) There's a small pile of old yellow threads. Most of them are still woven together into what amounts to a large handfull of what otherwise looks like a ripped and shredded rag that would most certainly be interpreted as garbage by everyone - except for one woman. A highly educated and accomplished professional woman whose psychological constitution is propped up by this small pile of threads. She travels with it, and she sleeps with it every night. It's what's left of her Raggedy Anne and Andy blanket from when she was a baby. 2.) A man walks into a cold room (a large refrigerated room), sees some unlabeled tubes with colorless liquid in them sitting about, decides to tidy up the counter and dumps the liquid in the tubes down the drain, and walks out. Moments later another man enters the cold room, emerges moments later and begins screaming at the top of his lungs. The lives of him and two other post-docs are profoundly affected, as they'd stayed up night after night in shifts for the last three weeks purifying an activity, a specific protein (or complex), and their final pure fraction was in one of those tubes that they'd left alone for mere moments before some young rotation student came in and decided to clean off the counter.
The moral is that humans can assign great meaning to unravelling piles of threads and tubes of what otherwise looks like water, yet others have no direct way of knowing how much human investment is embedded in any given physical thing. While moving recently, I unloaded a pile of trash at the dump, that was basically my childhood. It was painful and releiving at the same time. Someone watching from the next truck, would never have guessed the signficance, or would they?

by chris at June 26, 2003 12:27 PM

That said, the fact that it is interesting does not make it art.

Vice versa applies, I supposed.

If you managed to take those childhood bits and rearrange them in some way that, without explanation, a person can see that arrangement and think "here is a life, unfolded in this display, look at the images it conjures in my mind"... then hey, it's art. (My definition.)

Short version: if you need a plaque next to the 'piece' to explain why whatever-it-is is Art... it ain't Art.

(The raggedy-ann blanket might be nice under glass in a history museum, but not an art museum, IMO.)

by Doyce at June 26, 2003 12:38 PM

I like when people take garbage and turn it into something else. But if it is just staying garbage, sitting in a pile, that just doesn't seem like very interesting art. It's been done one too many times.

by Linz at June 26, 2003 3:00 PM

That's the best thing that could've ever happened to the 'artist' and his 'work'; had the janitor not done his job, where would all the attention be? I mean, that's what artists want right? All of sudden, some reformed nutcase in Manhattan wants to see a picture of it(that would be me). I bid 30 cents for it. Postage and Handling included.

by LOCKHEED at June 26, 2003 3:50 PM

I wasn't saying interesting things are art. I was illustrating that signficance and meaning can be found in non-obvious places. The implication follows that what is signficant to some may be insignificant to others. I disagree with you that obviousness should be a criteria for art. I see things every day I think of as art, yet without a plaque most of my coworkers (pronounced cow-orkers) would see nothing worth noting. Yet if I were to photograph it, and frame it, and give it some abstract title, then it might occur to them as art. For them perhaps it's a matter of convention rather than essence. An expression can be intentional or non-intentional, and the impression left can vary widely, thus exactly what art is or ain't can be a little slippery. The real question to me is why do people feel the need for such tight definitions for something so abstract. Perhaps we should start a movement for the quantification of art. Imagine defining art units and trying to normalize for density, and if we had a unit we could start doing some math and physics. Let's see
if we plot the number of good chilhood flashbacks versus the surface area taken up by the nose of the Mona Lisa we can integrate to find the number of human emoticons. But we already know the answer: 46.

by chris at June 26, 2003 5:46 PM

Unfortunately, conventions are what the masses need to rely upon, and we simply cannot fight the masses anymore; we have been classified, tucked neatly into a simpleton cliche, they have won, and I'm scared, for my life may be deeply uncomfortable from here on... NO. NO. Hope. Please. God help me now. Quantity is decimating quality...

by LOCKHEED at June 26, 2003 6:04 PM

All I know is that last year some joker banked 20k and the prestigious Tate Award for Lights Going on and Off, which is pretty much self-explanatory. It's also an insult to all those serious but starving artistes out there.

by anna at June 26, 2003 7:54 PM

"Functionless art is simply tolerated vandalism."

In some of my fine art classes in college, Iíd get fed up with all the bullshit Iíd hear in class. Iíd poop out some assignment and right before class make up some sort of ďprofoundĒ reasoning behind it and just about every time the prof. would buy it and Iíd get an A.

Art doesnít mean much to me anymore. Shit on the pavement and set it on fire. Hey look, a social statement! Since Art is done dividing the classes, itís decided to let itself go and overdose itself on ambiguity. I guess its hard being the center of your own world.

Iím more interested in communication. Speak to me. Donít insult me.

by MrBlank at June 26, 2003 8:43 PM

Well you'd be a prime candidate to write up a treatise for the Quantification of Art movement. Obviously your professor wasn't able to apply the correct metrics to measure the true quantity of art in your efforts. Rather, art in school is probably more a matter of trust, there are few objective criteria by which to be "right", thus violating a trust and then claiming gullibility isn't much better than the "I treat her like shit and she keeps calling me back" routine. While there is certainly a lot of "bad art" out there, I would say it comes mostly from people's inability to speak. Most people don't know how to use art as a language, thus it's not surprising that what often passes as art to some is incomprehensible to others. You want people to speak to you, yet given the chance most people don't know what to say or how to say it. Some people can say a lot with very little. It's not so much a matter of class division as it is a matter of imposed expectations. We impose a set of expectations on art, that it has a universal message, that everyone should understand it, etc., yet underneath it is simply about expression, meaning, and impression which given the language space available, and the context, makes for a very wide target for a narrow set of expectations.

by chris at June 27, 2003 12:40 PM

I like Mr. Blank's comment about Big Art's ambiguity. While I realize art appreciation is subjective, it's clear that just about everyone likes the Mona Lisa and hates PissChrist.

by anna at June 27, 2003 6:51 PM

I don't like the Mona Lisa. Talk about a dog. Woof. I don't care why people like it. I want to know why it's good. (That was retorical. You don't need to answer. I know why the Mona Lisa is good.)

by MrBlank at June 28, 2003 2:07 AM

Well, that enigmatic chick did sport some major love handles. Then again, so did Marilyn Monroe who weighed in at a hefty 151 lbs at death.

by anna at June 30, 2003 6:45 AM

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