Falling Awake

Just Darts Since 2009

Does Art Have to Be Ugly?

The Wall Street Journal has an article up questioning an exhibit being held at the de Young museum in San Francisco.  The headline reads, “Decorative, Yes, but Why Does It Merit This Show?”  The artist is Dale Chihuly, who works in glass.  The author, David Littlejohn, describes the exhibition:

The word most commonly used by Chihuly-fanciers to describe the works is “beautiful,” a concept of little value in defining serious art after the Impressionists. Although some Chihuly objects appear snakelike or surreal, there is never anything troubling or challenging about them.

Now, is it really the art Mr. Littlejohn dislikes, or the kind of people who enjoy it?

While throngs of fans clicked away on their little cameras, I found myself nauseated by the grotesque, gleaming, pointless excess.

How condescending, how snide, how…

Wait a minute.  Mr. Littlejohn was nauseated?  How can that be?

…there is never anything troubling or challenging about them.

Oh!  He meant “troubling” or “challenging” to the hoi polloi.

Perhaps Mr. Chihuly is being truly transgressive here.  He’s upending the expectations of the art critics, and they don’t like it anymore than the rest of us poor schlubs.

An example of Chihuly's work

An example of Chihuly's work


4 responses to “Does Art Have to Be Ugly?

  1. Mary Beth Kriskey August 7, 2008 at 5:42 pm

    Good afternoon!

    I subscribe to Google News Alerts, and have often seen your name in my email inbox. There can’t be that many “Kriskeys” out there, so I am curious if there is some relation/connection.

    Best wishes,

    Mary Beth Kriskey
    Copywriter / PR Specialist
    Zaiss & Co.

    Me: Contact info removed for fear of spam and creeps.

  2. Mike Kriskey August 7, 2008 at 6:42 pm

    Hi, Mary Beth!

    I just sent you an e-mail.

  3. Will November 29, 2008 at 4:17 pm

    You really nailed it! It seems to me that folks who need something ugly to challenge them are like hedonists who’ve deadened their senses through excess and thus turn to masochism and ultimately self destruction.

    Beautiful things are the most challenging, and provocative, and the celebration of life and beauty is what art is all about.

    • Mike Kriskey December 10, 2008 at 1:13 am

      Hey, Will:

      I think you put your finger on it. I don’t know anything about art, but I know what I don’t like. And I don’t like art being redefined as something that is “disturbing.” Disturbing people is easy. How about bringing joy to people? I swear I think the only twentieth century artist that I would be proud to display to someone from another time would be Norman Rockwell.

      But you’re absoultely right about the hedonism aspect. Think about someone who starts to view pornography. At first it’s mild, like “Playboy.” Then it’s “Hustler.” Next thing you know you’re on the internet looking for something a little more graphic. It sneaks up on you. I challenge anyone to look at the history of art in the twentieth century and not see this same steady progression.

      It goes from beautiful to “challenging” to disturbing to… nothing. At some point, it ceases to be art.

      And people who don’t go to museums to see it are the philitsines.

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