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Saturday, October 3, 2015

When an Art Idea is Just Plain Dumb

Okay, this one is partial rant, partial advice. And I apologize to the artists I am tearing down in this piece, but there is a lesson to be learned by all.

We have to face it. As artists there are times where an idea we have is absolute and total bullshit. It happens. Sometimes we do it on purpose, sometimes we just miss the obvious that the idea we are working with is "just plain stupid".

One of the best examples of this came to attention this past week at ArtPrize #7 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Artist Jeffrey Augustine Songco decided to put up a length of chain link fence and string 2,700 pounds of Mardi Gras beads on it. (see the piece here)

Now with all due respect to the artist, the concept for this eludes me. Perhaps its because I live in New Orleans and am 3 minutes from the parade routes. These routes are strewn with these beads for miles along fences, trees, telephone poles, homes, restaurants, umm...well everywhere! But I am just having a real hard time seeing the art in this. In fact the beads used for this are what we call "throw away" beads. They are sort of the rock bottom end of bead'dom. In fact when these are thrown from the parade floats locals don't even bother with them a lot of times. We are out for premium beads!
Now I understand where Jeffrey was going in looking to create the mysticism and ritual of Mardi Gras, but umm....geeze its just beads on a fence.

Now here it the clincher. The piece of art was put up and most of the beads were promptly stolen by passing tourists who thought they were for the taking. Now in New Orleans this would have been sort of taken for granted. Thats what beads are for. Sharing and tossing at people.

I'm sorry if I sound judgemental, but this is piece of art is "just plain dumb".

Now things happen, and that's not the artists fault. But if we are doing installation art, especially in an area that is not under constant scrutiny, there is an imposition placed upon us that we need to think and rethink the piece of art over and over again to make sure we've considered all the possibilities.

There is also a necessity that art that is so much in the public eye as an outdoor piece be more than beads hanging on a fence. I abhor gimmick art. I am not saying Jeffery's piece was purposefully gimmicky, but I think it might come off that way. We always want our art to be taken seriously and I am not sure this piece meets that criteria.

Now lets shift back here to New Orleans itself to another event and coincidentally also related to Mardi Gras. One of the cities new Mardi Gras groups (referred to as a Krewe) is the Krewe of Chewbacchus. They are the originators of an event taking place in a few weeks called the Ignition Festival. This festival is similar to a small scale Burning Man Festival complete with art going up in flames. This means that the whole concept is backed and created by artists.

The original plans called for a 42 foot tall standing Wookie (yeah like from Star Wars) sculpture that would be set on fire at the end of the festival. Mind you the festival is only about ten days away at the time of this writing and the planners had to cancel down the sculpture for a smaller 27 foot version because they could not get an engineer to sign off on the safety of the original 42 foot version.

Now these are artists. I don't mean to put down Chewbacchus because I love the concept of their Krewe, but didn't anyone think about this long before they got this close to the actual date of the festival? Were their no artists who could see the height being an issue and planned designs that could still be tall but accommodate restrictions to it?

Again, planning planning planning on installations this big! These are matters that should have been considered months back and planned for. Artists working on this scale MUST be planners also. We must do our homework and our research. And above all we must strive to not be JUST PLAIN DUMB. If we are then we need to have the wisdom to say "this just doesn't work" and move on to another concept.

Now with all due respect to the Krewe of Chewbacchus, I wasn't there during their planning so I cannot know the discussions that took place. But as a third party observer, I think there were pitfalls here that could have been seen before hand.

In fact I would advice any artist who is creating a large scale piece of art, to bring in a neutral third party who can act as an impartial observer and make help the artist in avoiding these kinds of problems. We all learn though and I suspect that all these artists have learned some valuable lessons from these things and will take them into consideration next time. But they do make great examples for this article.

Unfortunately there is not some great grand arts council we can go to for advice on a piece of art that is both conceptual and untried. So its the luck of the draw sometimes. But at least have the common sense to ask yourself "is my idea just plain dumb"? It might save you a lot of headaches later.


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