The Experiment

This year for my birthday, my wife and I visited the Indianapolis Museum of Art because I wanted to see the traveling Ai Weiwei exhibit while it was in town. Fascinating collection of provocative, disturbing, convicting works and images.

My wife captured this thought, one of several typeset on the museum walls for the occasion.

Study questions:

If the artist works hard but doesn’t change any aspect of the world, not even a minute tweak, is the result still art? How many tries should they be allowed?

If the artist has no definitive aspiration, can they still effect change? What sort of deadline should we give them?

(Mood: contemplative. Music: Bob Mould, Black Sheets of Rain.)

2 responses

  1. Thank you for the quote and the questions, you stirred my brain, Sir.

    “If the artist works hard but doesn’t change any aspect of the world, not even a minute tweak, is the result still art?”

    It’s hard for me to imagine this scenario, because if nothing else changes, the artist is changed. If he is changed than his world is changed, even if that’s a world of one. To quantify change as only existing on a grandeur scale undermines the idea that change initiates on the individual level. But the real question being asked is, What is Art? (This is one of my favorite questions, and if I went to parties, I imagine it is a great question to ask at parties!). My personal definition isn’t that art is change, that’s more the aspiration of the artist. For me art is creation and expression combined. Change is either a by-product of art, or not.

    “If the artist has no definitive aspiration, can they still effect change?”

    I think we see this in popular culture. When you look at something such as comedy, and how different types of comedy resonate at different times. Recently listening to an interview by The Mighty Boosh, they discussed how when they premiered, their show was quite out of fashion. The Office had become popular, and reality based comedy was what everyone wanted. Yet, they tapped into something with their fantastical show that allowed them to sell out the O2 Arena in London. I don’t think they ever set out to change the world, they set out to create and the express their point of view. It just so happened that point of few resonated.

    “How many tries should they be allowed? What sort of deadline should we give them?”

    Infinity x infinity and none!


    • Highly agreed on that last point.

      On one level, much of this short piece was admittedly self-critical. Something of which I was quite proud (too proud, arguably) didn’t net quite the results I’d hoped, so this was my oblique way of trying to work my way out of indignation, into introspection, and hopefully to somewhere more constructive.

      That being said: I totally agree in that I’ve never seen “What is Art?” spark a boring conversation (granted, I’m also a non-partygoer, but I’ve been embroiled it in frequently, and I watched one such convo this afternoon on Facebook, so I insist that counts!). I generally grant a much more generous latitude for defining Art than many local peers would. (Anytime I visit an art museum with others, I’m usually the last one to leave a given gallery because I’m skipping past fewer works than everyone else, even in the Modern Art sections they find alienating.)

      Your point about change as a potential byproduct of art rather than as its sole purpose is sound. And I’ve seen plenty of examples of art that didn’t have an immediate impact but later found its audience and its “time”. Sometimes the artist just has to be patient. 🙂 Ai’s life lived as a Chinese dissident and political firebrand is, of course, radically different from ours. His works in that exhibit were frequently scathing indictments of the world around him — skewering, inflammatory, bordering on weaponized. His context surely accounts for the vast difference in what Art means to him. It may have been overthinking on my part to try and draw parallels, but I thought it was worth exploring.

      Anyway: thanks very much for your equally stirring response, which was officially the longest, most thought-provoking response I’ve received to anything here in ages. If I were giving out door prizes, you’d totally have first pick. 🙂


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