Sunday, March 04, 2007

Judging Bruce Nauman's Exhibit

Judging Bruce Nauman’s Exhibit

While experiencing Bruce Nauman’s exhibit entitled A Rose has no Thorns, two overwhelming points of realization came to my mind. First, it became clear to me that anything can be qualified as art. And second, it became clear to me that what constitutes “good” or “quality” art is a purely subjective judgment

Now, that being said, I have no problem calling anything and everything art. I am not one of those people who believe that art can be defined and bounded. I believe that everything in the world has some artistic value and so anything can be considered art. But the point that concerned me most when experiencing Bruce Nauman’s work is how can one decide what constitutes “quality” art and is this decision a purely subjective judgment.

As I stated above, it is my opinion that this is a subjective judgment. So the only way to make a judgment of Bruce Nauman's work is to make a subjective claim and support this claim with evidence. I felt that Bruce Nauman’s work was very original and experimental, but overall I felt that his work was of little real quality. Of course this is only my opinion, but since we already heard the guides explanation on why this is “quality” art, let me give you my explanation.

I feel that the “quality” of art can be judged by two measures: 1) the ability of the piece to produce an emotional response in the viewer and 2) the intrinsic value of the piece, more specifically, the ability of the piece to communicate its message universally without an explanation.

Let us now apply these measures to Bruce Nauman’s exhibit, beginning with the first measure. Throughout my entire experience at the exhibit, I felt very little positive or negative emotion. Mostly I felt extremely apathetic and disinterested. At one point in the exhibit our guide pointed to a rag positioned on a stool and then expounded for several minutes on the artistic quality of the piece. Now all said and done this piece was aesthetically unpleasing, its message was extremely diluted and it elicited absolutely no emotional response from me. I was then presented with several film clips including “Manipulating the T-Bar”, “Thighing”, and “Square Dance” all of which did not ignite a single feeling inside of me besides boredom and disinterest. In fact, while experiencing the entire exhibit I felt no emotional response, which leads me to conclude that it does not pass the first measure.

Now lets move on to the second measure: the intrinsic value of the piece, that is to say its ability to communicate its message universally without explanation. Throughout my tour of the exhibit I had not the slightest clue what message the art was attempting to communicate. It was only until the tour guide explained the entire theory behind the work that I came to somewhat understand the point of the art. If the tour guide had not explained to me the history of sculpture and why a rag in the corner is revolutionary then I would have absolutely no clue that I was looking at a piece of art. If he had not told me that the purpose of a piece was to “extends beyond my ability to pay attention to it”, I would have never understood what Bruce Nauman was trying to communicate. Just imagine if we were to drop this exhibit in a non-western country and did not explain anything to the viewers. People would never be able to figure out what the art was trying to communicate. Therefore it is clear that the art does not have an intrinsic universal message. Instead its message must be translated and teased out by people who have studied the artist, his work and his motives. Thus it is clear that the work does not pass the second measure.

In the end it is difficult for me to say that Bruce Nauman’s work is low quality. After all he spent his life producing the work and he clearly put a lot of effort and thought into his art. What I can say is according to the definition set forth in the response; Bruce Nauman’s work does not measure up.



Blogger Felix said...

It is true that art is a very subjective topic. For me, abstract art like Nauman's proves to be a very difficult thing to grasp. When I looked at some of his artwork, I was rather disinterested as well. There were only a few pieces that caught my eye. What I think detracts from abstract art, well art in general, is the constant search for some sort of meaning. Sometimes I wonder why can't art just be meaningless. Maybe Bruce decided to pose in those positions for minutes on end just cause he was bored? This probably isn't the case, but why do we always have to constantly search for some inner meaning?

3/04/2007 5:17 PM  
Blogger Valerie C said...

I also agree that judging art is a very subjective matter. I don't really like the idea that anything can basically be considered art now, but I can see how everything in existence can have some artistic feature. But I think there should be some limits to art that actually gets exhibited. Defining your two criteria for the quality of art was helpful. However, I must disagree with your reaction to number 1. The art elicited a lot of emotion from me, mostly surprised, but it's emotion right? I was shocked at what woudl be considered art, and kind of disgusted in some of them (the thigh one). But I don't know if these emotions really count in making it quality art.
As for the second criterion, I agree. I did not know what meaning or message came along with his art. Only after the tour guide explained a few of them did I slightly begin to understand. I think the rag of burlap and latex would be the most meaninful in relation to our class simply because the artwork is meant to be changed in shape and space over time. It is also meant to decay showing the passing of time. Otherwise, I'm not sure what some of the other videos were about.

3/04/2007 8:30 PM  
Blogger Frank Song said...

i also agree that art is pretty subjective. The message or the meaning is important. Sometimes it seems like that it is more important than the look of the work has created. However, in my opinion, it is also the artist's job to create something 'artfully' like it is the writer's job to convey his idea in commonly understandable language.

3/04/2007 9:34 PM  
Blogger Nina said...

Although I'm not a fan of post-modern/minimalist art either, it's very hard to critique Bruce's kind of art. The point of it isn't to elicit any sort of response or interpretation, but rather for the viewer to engage with the piece and become part of the piece. Indeed, it sounds very new-agey, but again, it's not for everyone.

However, I did enjoy the photographs. His use of wordplay was quite amusing.

3/05/2007 8:19 AM  
Blogger Shane_Wey said...

I agree. Your standards seem pretty ... well.. standard. I think you make a good point that good art should not need extensive commentary. I felt every exhibit of Nauman's needed a five minute discussion as to the thought process behind the piece, Nauman's personal history, Nauman's personality, and what the piece is trying to express. And even after that, I still did not understand any of the exhibits. I remember talking to almost everyone I met later that day about the exhibit and how much I have realized that I do not like abstract art. If I were to take one of those pieces (say the first one that looked like a long purple worm) and put it in a friend's living room as a gift, my friend would probably get mad at me and make me throw it away.

4/29/2007 11:59 PM  

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