How we judge art
One of my favorite artists in American culture was the late John Cage (1912-1992). He was called a musician, but I saw him as something much greater. He was a philosopher of art.
At a lecture in Hartford, Conn., he said, “Every stroke of a brush is a painting. Every object is sculpture. Every sound is music. Art ... is getting away with it.” Later that night, we went to see a performance by John Cage. He read every third syllable from the Bible. Within five minutes, he cleared the room, except for me and my friend. We were laughing uncontrollably. When we gained our composure, he asked, “Well?” We replied, “You didn’t get away with it.” He laughed and said, “It was worth a try.” We then went out for a snack and conversation.
In regard to the recent sculpture at the park courtesy of the Chaffee, a reader of this paper suggested a “jury of qualified persons whose job it will be to decide.” Blah, blah, blah. I would like to tell this reader that I am a qualified person. I would also like to tell her that she, too, is a qualified person. I understand that she doesn’t like it. OK. I have yet to see it in person, but considering that I have been a fan of Alexander Calder, I may. The artist may be pleased with both our assessments because he evoked passion from people.
Culture is controlled by the masses. We decide on language. We decide which music to listen to or which art to enjoy. We have arguments about our culture. That is a part of our culture as well. A jury to decide what is culturally acceptable would be disastrous. We might suffer the fate of Soviet era Russian culture, or worse, the embarrassment of Quebec’s silly cultural laws.
One more thing about Cage. He wrote a piano piece called 4:33. It is four minutes and 33 seconds of silence. What you hear is anything but silence. You hear your fellow audience members squirm in their seat, cough, scratch, while the air system blows air gently. He made you listen to your environment. He got away with it.