The Empty Room


Though I’ve just mentioned it, I’ll mention it again. Badger’s writing about songs that stuck with him, or bugged him in one way or another, made me think about the kind of art I return to most frequently. Things that bug me. It doesn’t matter if I like it or not, if there was something about it that “stuck” then it’s worth revisiting. In many ways, that’s what I think art is all about.

There’s a lot in the art world to bug people. The Turner Prize was just awarded to an empty room. I suppose you could say that it’s not exactly empty, since it is filled with light when a switch flips on and off every five seconds. There are a couple of weird messages in this: the most positive is that this is a work of art that anyone can own. Just stand at the corner, and flip the lights in your room. Neato. What bothers people isn’t that the artist has made this supposed statement, but that he got 20,000 pounds for it. It almost seems like Madonna “got it” as she scandalized Channel Four by saying live on TV:

“At a time when political correctness is valued over honesty, I would also like to say — right on motherfuckers, everyone is a winner!”

Why would the valuation of such a simple gesture bother people so much? Because it’s doing its job, I guess. Bugging people.

Arts and Letters Daily was also quick to point at an article that attempts to justify minimalism in the Guardian. While I often like the writing there, this article missed the mark, I think. Maybe it’s because the writer, and his guide should have flunked literature. Standing in front of Carl Andre’s Equivalent 8, Jonathan Freedland relates:

While we contemplate the bricks, I ask Wilson what qualities he sees in the work, after all this time. He is protective, having defended it for so long. “Order; it is extremely ordered. Purity, because it is perfectly stripped down. But, above all, truth because it doesn’t pretend to be anything else. And, like Shelley says, truth is beauty and beauty is truth.”

Sorry guys, that was Keats, not Shelley. And the lines can be taken as ironic, not as a statement of fact. “Ode on a Grecian Urn” is a statement about the futility of art, really. It pissed me off for a long time. I kept returning to this poem over and over because it bugged me. Like most people, I first read it at face value, and not being a big champion of “beauty,” it really pissed me off. But when I began to sense the narrator’s lack of ease with the pronouncement, I gained greater appreciation of it. It’s still not a favorite poem, but at least now, I feel like I get it.

When art gets under your skin, that means it’s working.

1 thought on “The Empty Room”

  1. oh yes! well said. people are talking that’s for sure. what would it mean if you flipped on the light and the room was full of chicken ornaments, like my mothers living room? it must be some statement about the world today.there’s this big in Roman Holiday where Audrey Hepburn is drugged and quoting a poem to Gregory Peck, something about ‘if i died and heard you voice.. something something about dust… still rejoice” and says to him, “do you know that poem? it’s keats”, and he says “it’s shelley” “keats!” “shelley!”. oh, you had to be there, but it’s amusing that the two poets get confused.
    there’s a “bit” in roman holiday. you know you have that “preview comment” button, i need to learn to use it.

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