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On the artist's reliance on the word

referring to the David Hickey quote on the "Is art a profession or a calling?" post


How any thing happens and how we come to see things as "good," "bad" or indifferent, can never be known, except through linear processes, which are always partial. But, how does it happen that a word, let's say a particular word, as it is wrought in steel and neon, becomes what is considered worthy of consideration as a serious and meaningful artwork? After all, while not all being artists we are all language producers. What exactly are the processes which constitute perceiving words themselves as artworks? I think this is worthy of looking into, at least it is more interesting than looking at such an artwork.

To further explore these questions I will take Martin Creed's sign/sculpture "UNDERSTANDING" as a case example. The exploration that follows is meant only to stimulate discussion and thought.

The sculpture itself, is 25 feet of neon and steel on a swanky pedestal, that spells out "UNDERSTANDING."

We are told in reviews of the artist's career that he "has pursued an extraordinary path by confounding the traditional categories of art and employing a minimalist approach that strips away the unnecessary while preserving an abundance of wit, humor, and surprise. Crossing all media including…(you name it). Creed's practice meditates on our everyday existence and the visible and invisible structures that shape our lives." How did they say all that and escape from using the sand-in-the-Vaseline word so often found in these verbose narratives; "juxtaposition"? And how can "minimalist approaches" be said to "confound traditional categories"? On what planet?

The business of those creating the contemporary art world seems to be the creation of the perfect storm of banality. This spectacle feigns either the smashing of the old or creation of the new icon. It is meant to shock while being more like room temperature water or runny eggs. This is how it may begin to be assumed that we are desperately unable to evoke our own sense of wonder about an artwork. As nothing is left unscripted it is easy enough to whip up the fantasies and projections of those in the social surround. And who wants to be left out of that? Viewers can then lay claim to insight into the artist's projections of assumed meaning onto the pre-selected words as the things that contain hidden value.

How soppy-stupid that is in the case of "UNDERSTANDING" for it is a lame word, a vapid emotional ploy that closes down thinking and creativity. "I understand" is the last thing I want to hear from anyone. It is precisely at the point when someone says, "I understand…" that I realize from experience that I am being lied to, ripped off or written off. So why do we collectively in the current theatre of the arts, think Martin Creed's sculpture, if it is to be considered sculpture, "cool" (god, I hate that word)? It is like the entertainer Madonna insisting she be called an artist. But we all know how many people watched the Super Bowl.

And were mystified. Just who's selections are we idealizing as we place value on materially and emotionally impoverished pre-selections of art and artist, as our popularity-obsessed culture decrees?

Martin Creed's sign/sculpture comes with product attached. It is an advertisement for his just released recording of the same name. It is a blatant case of creating product to promote product. The thought is as linear as they come. I understand for sure. But I'm not buying. And to the Public Art Fund and others who make selections in the name of forging public taste in our "choice saturated culture"― help us out here. People are way smarter than you think.

~Karen Morris

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