Last weekend, we attended a live telecast — in our local cinema — of The Metropolitan Opera from New York City. Then, last night, New York City came to us in the form of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company at the Wexner Center.
And my daughter taught me that art is anything touched by an artist.
No mas! No mas!
All my black clothing is now in the laundry hamper. I just don't have anything more to wear.
And I'm back in that age-old quandary: What is art?
The Accounting Non-Definition of Art
My old business partner, Michael Regan, had a printer's eye for visual art. He might be puzzled — as we all might be — by the content of a painter's work, but he had eagle eyes. He could look at a work from 20 paces and tell you which colors went on in what order (even on a flat lithograph).
Once, wandering through our Columbus Museum of Art, we found ourselves puzzled by the work of a celebrated artist. The artist must have received some grant money in the lottery. He'd taken that grant money and bought a hat or a shoe, or a piece of bacon, and nailed it to the wall of our Columbus Museum of Art. Or just dropped aesthetically it it on the floor. Whatever — it had been touched by an artist.
It inspired the question "What is art?"
I love this definition of art.
Michael, who once said that I knew only two jokes, stopped me with his theory:
"Art is what my accountant can't do."
I never met Michael's accountant, but that wasn't his point. He meant: if a CPA does it, it might be a demonstration of gifted talent, but it's not art, buddy.
The next day, I was at a board meeting at the Columbus Museum of Art, sitting beside a gifted CPA, Jim Bachmann, managing director of Ernst & Young. During a lull in the action, I described Michael's theory of art: "Art is what my CPA can't do."
Jim is polite and thoughtful. So he smiled and took it in, without reply.
I suddenly feared that Jim might be a frustrated artist and I hadn't helped. I spent the rest of the day playing that old familiar game, I Can't Believe I Just Said That (The Jim Bachmann Version).
But fast forward: two meetings later, the curators were dancing in front of us with the target of their curatorial lust. It was a painting by a famous painter. So they said.
It was a landscape that must have been very important indeed, because it looked like hell. And the curators were talking about its million-dollar price tag being a very good opportunity indeed.
I leaned over to Jim and, in an attempt to drag him down to my low-brow level, said, "If my kid brought that home from school, I'd send it back."
Jim must have shared my untrained assessment of this painting. He replied with a significant revision of the theory of art: "Art is what your CPA wouldn't do."
Toward A Unified Theory Of Art
Here we go:
Modern Dance — it's what we look like to the family dog when we walk through the house. Unpredictable and under-dressed, but (we think) we look graceful and expressive.
Opera — it's how we feel about the significance of our lives. We fall down and it's a big deal. Big deal? No. We're just being opera divas.
Visual Art — a chance to see what someone else sees. And to see it her way, with all her sleep deprivation and unrequited loves.
Theatre — it's what we'd see if we stared into our neighbors' windows. We shouldn't do that, but — hey — who can resist?
Country music — it's what we really think, especially after two beers.
Cinema — it's a expensive nap, with dream or nightmare provided.
Now you know what is art.
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