Weekly Rochester Events #327: Did Farquhar Meet a Boniface?
Thursday, April 14, 2005Last Thursday I went to George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) to see W. M. Hunt present his lecture titled Strange Mirrors. He describes himself as a connoisseur of outsider photographers. His definition of "outsider" includes naïveness, a visionary quality, and being rooted in the vernacular. He feels they are completely immersed in the creative process and lack any consideration for the potential audience for their work. The title refers to the notion that they create strange mirrors to their creative souls.
However, I find the term "outsider artist" somewhat distasteful and disrespectful. The direct implication is that there are "insider artists" which is an ill-defined concept: for instance, does this include those with formal training or artists who have a popular following? The flaw in either case is twofold: the art came first, and one can only learn technique, not art.
See, before there were college degrees in art, and before there were art critics, there were artists: somebody was trying to express themselves or to communicate something. Second, no matter how much you try, you'll never teach someone art. You can only offer tools to work with and some guidance to help with self-expression. There's no way to break creativity down into a series of simple steps (but once someone figures that out, sex robots are going to be awesome.)
So to me, there are no outsider artists. (There appear to be quite a few snooty Artistes, though.)
Afterward I went on a quest for a great cheeseburger (again). I stopped in at The Beale Street Cafe (689 South Ave.) but it was packed with people in what appeared to be some kind of large party. From there I went to Dicky's Restaurant (791 Meigs St.) because I kept hearing they had really good food. Unfortunately, their kitchen has been closed for quite a while and — get this — it was to reopen the very next day. I almost went for the sure-bet of a really good burger at MacGregor's (381 Gregory St.) but opted instead to head over to Richmond's (21 Richmond St.) I watched in horror as the chef mashed the juice out of the burger on the grill-top — I guess you can offer someone the tools to make food, but you can't stop them from making cool flames from the tasty goodness inside a burger. Nonetheless, it was a pretty good burger ... I can't imagine how good it'd be if it had all its juices. Mmm.
On Saturday I got back to George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) for The Animation Show. This year was spectacular. Bill Plympton's Guard Dog started things off with a dog's-mind view of how to protect one's master from such menaces as squirrels and flowers. Peter Cornwell's Ward 13 showed it's Australian roots as an action-laden, twisted tale of a sick hospital ward. Jonathan Nix' Hello was a bit more philosophical — a cassette tape recorder tries to strike up a conversation with the CD-player of his dreams, but he keeps trying to play back his old techniques and failing until he tries something different. Tomek Baginski's Sztuka spadania (Fallen Art) took a turn for the political (and shows off its Polish roots) wherein soldiers are killed solely for the amusement of someone who is completely disregarding the brutal means by which his masterpiece is being created. The final film was Don Hertzfeldt (also at Internet Movie Database)'s The Meaning of Life which I wish I'd seen more than once. I had the classic Hertzfeldt bias wherein I expected blisteringly fast-paced comedic wit and was completely off-guard with his much more thoughtful depiction of the cycle of life. There's nothing like an artist radically redefining themselves to make me kick myself for falling for the societally-induced belief that people don't change, and to respect the artist for taking the chance. Especially for taking on such a complicated message as the meaning of life.
I have long defined art simply as communicating ideas that are hard to put into words. I distinguish it from craft which is skill at making things — I don't lump the pretty resulting products of well-honed skills into the category of "art" like most people do. For me, art can be done with lots of technical skill or with very little. I think, though, that I will to add another twist: art is created with the intention of documenting ideas that are hard to put into words. That is, while a trip to Generic Corporate Box Store might communicate a number of intangible ideas, I don't think of it as art — unless, I guess, there is a deliberate suggestion to do so specifically for the purpose of the experience.
In my own project, I welded some of the frame parts together last week for the The Bike With 2 Brains. It's really a challenge to try and explain this in artistic terms — the physical manifestation is not really art ... at least not the kind you look at. It's the process of riding — the communication that goes on between two riders, and the experience of that unique situation that's the art — so I'm calling it "experiential art" (even though the term is already used for teaching art by doing art ... or something like that.) It's being designed specifically for Burning Man (The Man, Black Rock City 2004, NV) but that's more of a side-effect of the nature of the project. I'll need wide-open spaces that need to be crossed by many different people as a platform for presenting the vehicle itself ... I can't think of any other place that would offer a similar experience, yet I don't think I'm making it just for Burning Man ... harumph.
On Tuesday I got to see The Sweet Tarts perform at The Club at Water Street (204 N. Water St.) They too are limited to performing in select venues under rather controlled conditions — admittedly, not as severely as doing something that works only in one specific place and time.
Anyway, they did a pretty good job of the show. First, I'm not one to dig striptease on its own — I seldom visit strip clubs because I seldom find it particularly erotic ... I did see one performance (which was someone from our camp at [*sigh* sorry-to-mention-it-again] Burning Man last year) that was stunningly erotic. The striptease in the Tarts' show had some successes in eroticism for my hypercritical eye but were mostly just okay. The comedic sketches, magic tricks, and audience participation were all good. In all, everything was equally well-rehearsed and well-scripted with just a few kinks to work out — but (happily) no cheap, underdeveloped additions. I think what they need most is to toughen up their attitude toward the audience: to always believe they're superior (especially when dealing with the men.)
Anyway, coming up, I'm going to be setting up the light show thing I made for Heather Gardner's performance of Three Voices for Joan La Barbara by Morton Feldman last year for her performance on Monday night at Christ Church of Rochester (141 East Ave.) It's fairly unique in that I program it with different colors to transition between over the course of several minutes: it's so slow that, for the most part, the viewer's eye can't perceive that the colors are changing at all. The question in my mind is: is the light show art?
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On this day ... April 14
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About the title ... George Farquhar was born 327 years ago in 1678 and wrote the play The Beaux' Strategem which featured an innkeeper named Boniface which has since been adopted into the English language to be a generic term for an innkeeper.
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