A few months ago, I was cruising an online image board I frequent, I stumbled upon some Europeans sparking a lively debate about European culture. As they have for a few thousand years, they argued about trivial matters. When I finally decide to throw my hat into the ring and argue that, in fact, American culture is the best and no amount of discussion could top it, I was shot down by a French poster (the country in which you are posting from is clearly visible in this forum). He posted a picture of the green object (show on the right), and said that “Non, le America has no culture and no good art, hon hon hon!” Well, the French accent didn’t really happen, but our debate got me to thinking. How do we qualify art? No really. What is art? This is probably the most subjective question known to man. There is no qualifier, no internationally known standard. Art is only created and valued at what we make of it. A kindergartener’s finger-painting is art just the same as the Mona Lisa. But it’s obvious not everyone can be a Da Vinci or a Michelangelo.
Consider the above work. The statue on the right is obviously the Statue of Liberty. Designed by Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, it was commissioned by the French in 1876 to celebrate America’s 100 years of independence. Brought over by a steam freighter, the piece initially had trouble getting funding, until the New York Times opened a fundraiser to help pay for assembly. Arriving in July of 1885, the piece was assembled in just four months! Today, the Statue of Liberty represents the American dream for imigrants arriving in Ellis Island. Although not many people arrive from boats, the symbolism behind one of America’s most important pieces is monumental.
On the right, however, we have a piece from American artist Paul McCarthy. Installed last year for Christmas, the giant green inflatable piece titled “Tree” was taken down only two days after installation. During these controversial two days, the artist was slapped by an unknown assailant, and the piece unceremoniously taken down by vandals. The title? “Tree”. And for those of you unaware, the piece resembles a sex toy. The big question I raise to you is, what’s the line? What can we consider fine art and what can we consider junk that exists to stir up controversy?
Paul McCarthy has had a surprisingly illustrious career as a sculptor and creator of live art. Most of his works, too graphic for my tastes, features controversial content, but not subjects. One of his most notable pieces is a live work featuring a man humping a tree, while another one, titled “Bossy Burger”, and is another live piece of a man with condiments splattered across his face and body.
The piece in question, “Tree” was actually intended as a joke. But residents of Paris took to the internet in droves to protest the large inflatable structure. Said one netizen: “Place Vendôme vandalised! Paris humiliated!”
So at the end of the day, who’s to say “Tree” isn’t of the same artistic caliber as the Statue of Liberty? Both were made by prominent artists, and both were on display for large audiences. Simply put, what is amazing to one person might not be so great to another, regardless of which you like more, in this case, Tree or the Statue of Liberty. What really is art, at the end of the day, if not in the eye of the beholder? We as a society make up the rules for what is too obscene, what is good art, and for that matter, what is art? For this, I ask you, my peers. Take a vote, I’d love to hear your opinions:
My questions for you:
- Elaborate on your opinion. Why is “Tree” art, or why isn’t it? If you answered “other”, tell us why!
- In an ever more progressive society, do you see it as offensive? How do you think this piece would have been viewed 100 years ago? How about 100 years in the future?
- What’s the line? Tasteful nudes have been a staple of a large portion of the art world since the dawn of man. How far can we go from “The Birth of Venus” to “Tree”?
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