It’s rude to stare. It’s rude to laugh at someone. But staring at art is a good thing. The average length of time a person spends looking at a work of art in a gallery or museum is three seconds. Artists and curators dream of the day when people begin to stare at art, with or without learned appreciation. Staring is validation.
Laughing however, is a bit different. Artists and curators may not appreciate you belly laughing at a work of art, but for you the viewer, finding homour in the art can be valuable. It’s a great method to learn about an object that seems incomprehensible in terms of its meaning and value. And laughing at art is another way to understand something of the art world.
You may feel guilt about laughing at art, but don’t. When you laugh at art, you are employing some of the same techniques contemporary artists use to create their work.
With our current crop of contemporary works dotting Marina Park, especially “2 Beacons,” many residents are reserving judgment, possibly to avoid looking like the dullard, the person who doesn’t ‘get it’ – who thinks art is a lot of unnecessary expensive froufrou. There are a lot of dullards out there who don’t understand the value of culture and are happy with sitting in front of a TV.
Sadly, these naysayers are sometimes correct. Some art today can be done by artists, who from a traditional perspective, can’t draw, can’t paint and having nothing to say. Some artists sound like gurus, mediums, or alchemists when they speak, and often the words used to explain or defend their work reek of ideology and subjective relativism to the point where the words become more powerful than the work itself. This is why it’s important to laugh at art. Humour has a discerning ability. Think of political cartoons.
Humour is generally Surprise Incongruence – a sideways look at the world presented in a fashion so unusual that it makes you laugh. Irina Dunn: “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.” Humour also uses Inversion. By turning something upside down, we see it in a new light. Oscar Wilde: “Work is the curse of the drinking man.” The best comedians/satirists will use both.
A good example of both techniques is “Naturally Inflated” in the Children’s Garden. Instead of balloons of air, the sculpted rocks are in the shape of animal balloons. What look and feel like long-lasting stone or marble, which resonate with the appeal of traditional native carvings, are also mimicking the short-lived, lightweight, and tacky balloons made by your local clown. One local artist, when she saw the balloons, called them a disgraceful use of beautiful material. But the kids and some adults, who see them, immediately smile and climb aboard. Aside from the idiot vandals, lots of people are taken by the work.
Another example of inversion, but also employing the technique of “stripping,” amongst others, is the 2 Beacons, probably the most controversial piece of work in the Marina Park. Instead of beauty, we get a couple of ugly bent girders. Instead of “construction” we get the leftover look of “destruction.” From one angle they look rather majestic, from another, they look like the last bit of a demolished building.
Ugliness in itself is not a bad thing, as one of its two sculptors, Eduardo Aquino, pointed out when defending the work in front of city council before the sculpture was placed. He correctly pointed out that the Eiffel Tower was despised at first, but the public came to love the tower. What Aquino didn’t mention was that Gustave Eiffel was forbidden to build a second tower. What makes the Eiffel Tower so famous and loved is that it was the first great monumental use of steel in this manner. And there’s only one of them.
We’ve got two bent sticks, and other unpolished steel works in town. Local resident, Gary Baxter joked that a giant rubber sling could be attached to “2 Beacons” to turn it into a giant slingshot. His girlfriend, Heather Robinson laughed and added, “To wake up the sleeping giant.” Morgan Austin suggested a clothesline could be strung from one to the other to make it useful.
Lacking beauty is not so much a problem if there’s a function involved. The Eiffel Tower has a number of basic functions, and in it’s own way, has an iconic beauty. Sadly, “2 Beacons” seems to be lacking. But one way to find out, is not to reserve your judgment, but to make fun of the art, if you can, and see what sticks. What you start off hating, you may build an affinity for, or even a love for something that seems so plain. After all, lots of tourists who first arrive in Thunder Bay, don’t see a Sleeping Giant until someone points it out to them or they read about it. Most often the tourist will smile and nod. But sometimes a tourist will say, “I don’t see it.”