The Gates of Christo

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The Gates of Christo

From Brian K. Yoder

Published before 2005


Jeffery LeMieux: [...] What is the "purpose" of a painting? What does a painting "do?"

It expresses something. Perhaps something abstract like what love, justice, money, or motherhood are about, or perhaps something concrete like who George Washington was, what Times Square is like, or what the Great Pyramid is. The subject isn't particularly important to the question of what art is and whether it has a purpose (though of course it is important and interesting for other reasons), but that it has one is of vital importance to the question of whether or not it is art at all.

JL: I imagine it has to do with presenting a worldview (or a view of a particular portion of the world) for examination and critique. If that is one of the functions or "purposes" of art, then the gates do seem to present a worldview, even if it is a negative one.

How so? You mean that it expresses the view that useless effort on a grand scale is a virtue? I agree that it does in a certain way express that (stupid) idea, but it doesn't do so through artistic means. Art is by its nature indirect. One way to learn about something is by direct exposure to it. If I showed you a horse you could see for yourself all kinds of things about it, but that's not art. An artist might paint or sculpt an image of a horse that emphasized certain characteristics he thought were important about the nature of horses or his own reaction to them. Things like speed, freedom, strength, adventure, or who knows what else could all be brought out by an artist according to his judgment about it. Christo is indeed making a statement about pretense and waste, but only by providing us with an example of it, not by way of an artistic expression.

JS: I don't agree with Christo or anyone else who states that art is pure only if it lacks purpose or use. Glad to see that we agree that if one is going to present a work to the public, it is best done on one's own dime.

Yup, though I would not take Christo at his word on that topic. Why in the world would he spend his own money on such a fiasco? Does he really make enough money from his poster sales etc. to fund these stunts himself?

JS: And I'll restate again my conviction that everything that flows from within the mind of the individual into the world by a process of manipulation is by broad definition, art.... but that not every work of art is good or worthy of our attention. I believe the debate about what is good art is the central issue, and the old debate about what is and is not art is now simply a distraction.

There's a certain very broad usage of the word art which can cover everything from cooking to volleyball to spacecraft design. What I am talking about is specifically fine art. That other term is just derivative. The fact that there are multiple senses of the literal word "art" absolutely does not make the issue go away. I don't really care about the semantics here. The issue is that there are things that people do like paint, draw, write poems, make sculptures, and make music that have specific properties, purposes, and methods and the attempts to obliterate these things by the Modernists needs to be opposed and refuted. As I see it you are just playing a little semantic game here to call a truce. Instead I think we should be prosecuting a war to eliminate that false idea that art (the kind I am talking about) is pointless, useless, and a waste. That's a war worth winning.

--Brian