Wednesday, April 20, 2005

This Is Art?

I know nothing about art. This was proven again Monday night when I went to the Contemporary Art Museum here in St. Louis.

My friend, Andrew Sherman (an attorney and expert in franchising, licensing, and business law), was in town to speak to the Young Entrepreneurs Organization, who had gathered at the museum. The plan was that I'd meet him there, we'd go to dinner, and then he'd stay at our house before flying off to his next speech in the morning.

I'd never been to the Contemporary Art Museum so, during the cocktail hour, I walked around to check out some of the exhibits. This is when my complete lack of knowledge about art smacked me in the face yet again. I have friends and relatives who understand art, appreciate art, own art, even made art their business. They have tried to share that knowledge with me, but I'm a lost cause.

I know what I like, and if you show me a Monet, a Rembrandt, a Picasso, I can understand what I see. Van Gogh's "Starry Night" is breathtakingly beautiful (the Don McLean song it inspired wasn't so bad, either), but modern art just mystifies me. Some of it doesn't look all that different from the art created by my daughter in her elementary school years. What makes these things more valuable? Why are they hanging on a museum wall instead of from a magnet with a clip attached to a refrigerator door?

One piece in particular baffled me more than any other. It was a 70" by 70" wood block covered with some sort of pink material. That's it!

This is art? All right, sir, if you say so.

I couldn't read the name plate next to this pink masterpiece, so I don't know what the artist calls it. Probably "Eternity" or "Pastoral Dew." They all have names like that. I would have called it "Attic Insulation Stapled To Platform, Then Hung On Wall."

The pink piece reminded me of another museum visit, about 15 years ago. My wife took me -- okay, dragged me -- to an art museum to check out some exhibit she wanted to see. I wanted to like it, I really did, and I tried my best. If nothing else, it was visually stimulating, and everything was fine until I came upon the nails-and-string thing.

This piece consisted of a piece of wood -- ah, a common theme! -- with four long nails hammered into its corners, and some string wrapped around the nails. End of description.

I had the same reaction, "This is art? I wonder what the artist calls this." The answer: "Untitled."

Talk about your complete lack of creativity. You have some wood, nails, and string. Combining them into this brilliant piece of artwork couldn't have taken more than an hour -- and I'm including the time it took to find a hammer and decide whether to wrap the string clockwise or counter-clockwise -- and then you couldn't spare a few minutes to come up with a name?

Any name at all would do. Pick a word out of the dictionary. Name it after your dog. Throw down a dozen Scrabble tiles, put them in random order, and use that. Hell, call the thing Scrabble Tile.

Back at the Contemporary Art Museum, after viewing and being confused by several more pieces, I shook my head and wandered back toward the gathering. There, I spotted something much more pleasing to my eye -- a waiter passing around a tray of hors d'ourves.

Ah, finger food. This, I understand.