It feels like the world is descending on Grand Rapids this week. The media is hyped—we’re getting coverage in prestigious publications like New York Times and Wall Street Journal. Bloggers are blogging and photographers racing around, hoping to be the first to get the really fabulous shot of what will be the winner.
Facebook is clogged with entertaining posts and event invitations.
What’s it all about? ArtPrize. The second year of the 19-day art extravaganza that has taken over our town. More than 1700 pieces of art will be on view in a three-mile radius of the central city. It is a wildly successful event that starts on Wednesday.
The challenge, of course, for us regular folks who plan to see as many of the pieces as possible, is, “What the heck do we say” about each piece? Don’t snicker. This is a serious question.
I deal with it all the time. I love art. I love museums. I love art galleries. I love sculpture parks and now I Love ArtPrize…..it’s the best thing that has happened in the Midwest in a long time.
I also love hanging around with people who make, appreciate or have intelligent things to say about art.
Unfortunately I struggle with what to say. Mostly what comes out is, “It’s pretty.” “Great colors” or “I like it.”
Or totally lacking in originality I might say, “It’s interesting.” That translates to “I haven’t a clue.”
Really, it is mostly banal stuff. Eventually I give up and smile and nod knowingly.
Well, last week at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago I found the perfect solution. It’s a cute little red book called Art Criticism 101 and it is filled with pithy remarks to make when faced with the mysterious stuff we call Contemporary Art.
This book with the subtitle, “You too can be an art critic” is a compilation of 101 commentaries, insights and observations culled from contemporary art publications. The author suggests you use them liberally when the need arises.
Here are a few examples:
- “Fittingly, the artist does not intervene, allowing us to draw our own conclusions.”
- “This work stands as a powerful metaphor for a cooperative, collaborative relationship to the earth.”
- “This work glows with compacted energy and sheer hedonism.”
- “This painting seems subjectively driven and creates a dynamic energy.”
- “This work reinforces ambiguities rather than answers.”
- “These works speak to the subconscious of a media-saturated culture.”
These are a heck of a lot better than, “Hmmm. Nice.”
You get the idea. The book is fun and funny and I’ll think of it when I meander the ArtPrize sites. Maybe even follow the author’s advice to “Trot out whatever commentary that comes to mind. They are not piece-specific, so there’s no need to worry that what you say seems to have little relevance to the picture at hand.”
The book’s goal is, “To enable you to view any art show with equanimity. It will free you of the onerous burden of shooting from the hip in hope of concocting an erudite sound bite on the spot. This in turn will allow you to concentrate on enjoying—or disparaging—the art at hand.”
I kinda like that.