Monday, September 21, 2009

Art is...

...anything we do that we don't have to do...

According to Brian Eno, that is, who we were happy to see speak last night on the insanely dreamy CSU-Long Beach campus. He was supposed to be talking about his 77 Million Paintings, but really he wanted to talk about the screwdrivers he'd brought along. He showed them to us on an overhead video projector. He explained that the business end of all screwdrivers is fundamentally the same - a metal shape that fits into a screw head. It does the work. But as you move away from the functional bit, you approach the handle which is much more interesting. This is where we encounter Design. Sure enough, his screwdrivers had handles of all colors and shapes, including some with feathers and glitter.

To continue paraphrasing: Stylistic choices can come into play when there isn't a specific piece of action that has to take place. Then he drew an imaginary line that started at the metal end of the screwdriver, went through the handle and continued on off into space. Somewhere on that line would appear the concept of Fine Art, which is very far away from the business end of a screwdriver indeed. He explained that art is a place where dangerous things can happen without real consequences. Art is a way of situating a set of desired (though possibly undesirable) conditions in relation to all other conditions. Art does not occur in a vacuum. Art is a transaction. Every new work of art is like a punch line to a joke. It doesn't make sense with out the story before it. Context is everything to Mr. Eno.

I'd read a lot of this material before in his book and in interviews. Still, I never tire of the way he articulates his thoughts. It was especially great to watch him cruelly (but warmly) dispatch with all the dumb questions people ask. "Can I ask you a question about The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway?" Mr. Eno drew enormous "Z's" on the overhead projector. "I'd rather you didn't. That was a very long time ago and is of interest to no one but you," was his answer. And if you're interested, you can Google it.


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