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The Grand Unified Theory of Rubean Mechanics


I work sometimes out of an office in the back of an old movie theater.  This theater was converted some years ago into an upscale restaurant, but the old silver screen is still the dominant interior feature.  It’s an old-style european movie house, with an upstairs gallery that circles the dining area, allowing the guests to look down on the large parquet surface that would have been the theater seating.  A few weeks ago, the owner decided to showcase a local artist.  She brought in about a dozen paintings, and they were hung next to the tables with little nameplates and price stickers in case anyone would be interested in shelling out 3000 bucks for a no-name close-up abstract of a persimmon painted with acrylics.  And I mean, hey, who wouldn’t?

But I’m no art critic.  When I was a young man, I fancied myself an artist.  I drew constantly, toyed with painting, even made a few statues here and there in clay.  I intellectualized and agonized over the lack of acceptance that experimental art forms were seeing.  I argued endlessly over the role of art in society, and how dangerous it was to let conservative old men make the final decision on the age-old question What is Art?

I believe my first real artistic crisis came with that sophomoric Piss-Christ thing.  My first reaction to this photo was, well, that’s art, but it’s trash art.  The once-heated discussions turned into defensive tirades about fundamentalist Christians running away with American culture; because, you know, it’s not like they’re part of American culture or anything. But still, there was something about the photo that just didn’t fit into my world-view.  It was supposed to be good, it was said, that so many people were talking about art and culture again.  That’s Art; it moves you, and makes you think, right?  I changed my mind back then.  I decided that nobody really knew what art was, and the important thing was to keep an open mind to other people’s view of What is Art?

With age comes more than just creaky knees and ass-pimples.  As I was sitting around the other day in the restaurant, discussing with some colleagues the new persimmon-paintings, we touched again upon that age-old dilemma.  Sure, some of the brushwork and composition of the pictures was pleasing, but was this art?  My colleague, who’s a computer artist, decided it was not.  This is illustration, not art, he pronounced.  This does not speak to the soul, nor does it challenge the mind. I disagreed.  Here we come to the entry-eponymous Unified Theory.  “Art” is absolutely, positively, and irrevocably in the eye of the creator.  You say that cheese-sculpture you did of Jesus wearing a bikini and high heels and blowing George W. Bush is Art? Okay, buddy, it’s Art. But here’s a little something extra for you to think about:  What is Art? was never actually the question.  The question was always, and will always be, Who’s Going to Pay for It?

It’s kind of sad that this nugget of wisdom wasn’t there for me in the eighties, during which I found myself wasting valuable drinking hours actually arguing whether or not interpretive dance qualifies as a valid art form.


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