We spent last Friday in De Pere, Wisconsin, attending Fall Visit Day at St. Norbert’s College with our high school daughter. Around lunchtime, Assistant Professor of Art, Fr. James P. Neilson made a presentation on art, love, and the way we perceive things to the gathered parents. Candidly, I figured this would be an exercise in self-indulgent academic yap. I was wrong.
From the moment he started speaking, Fr. Jim held the crowd in his thrall. His presentation focused on conceptual modern art, a decidedly un-populist niche with a narrow band of appeal, and yet he quickly won the crowd over to his POV through his unfettered enthusiasm. For forty-five minutes, he flew through a visually-intensive Powerpoint, introducing artist after artist, few of which I’d ever heard of before. When the program moderator interrupted him to cut the lecture short and keep us on schedule, the crowd revolted–none of us wanted the session to end.
I owe Fr. Nielson a profound debt of gratitude. As only the best professors can, he sent us out from his presentation energized by the raw power of creativity and art. So let’s start this week with the work of three conceptual artists I’d not known before this revelatory performance. Without Fr. Jim’s commentary, this will probably feel incredibly random; nevertheless, considering art–communication that exists solely to provoke–can be a very valuable experience.
First up: conceptual artist Wilfredo Prieto and his 2008 installation “One” from 2008. “One” consists of twenty-eight million fake diamonds and one real one. Is that art? Is that commentary? Is that just a shiny mess? I don’t know, but it’s certainly provocative. And fun.
Next is Janine Antoni, who instead of reaching for paints or pens, created “Butterfly Kisses” by blinking her Cover Girl mascara-covered eyelashes thousands of times. I am not sure I caught the entirety of her theme of stereotypical female activities and how they subjugate identity, but her art is still kind of awesome for its simple cleverness. And learning that she could only average sixty winks per day and completed the drawing after many months and approximately 2,124 winks fascinates on a fundamental level of oddball human achievement.
Finally, consider Andy Goldsworthy. This environmental artist rolled Scottish snow into thirteen one ton snowballs last winter. Then stored them. Then placed the six foot plus snowballs in thirteen public locations all over London just after midnight on June 21, Midsummer’s Day and left them to melt. Oversized and jarringly out-of-context, these snowballs in June provoked all manner of reaction, including the systematic destruction of three of them by one particularly incensed viewer.
Such is art. The best makes us think in new ways. Happy Monday.
By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79