November 10, 2009


I saw a photograph today at the Great Plains Art Museum among a series of black and white "environmental portraits" by John Evasco. In between the stalwart faces of weathered cowboys and country dames, was a young man in a phone booth. There were three booths, old fashioned and made of wood, two tall and thin, one wider with the phone set lower. The photograph neatly framed all three and there, crunched down in the bottom right-hand corner, sitting on the floor, his foot up on the partition, his hat reaching just below the level of the low phone in the third booth, was the young man, speaking into the black handset. The photograph was called "Lazy Conversation."

That word struck me as interesting - lazy. Why did the photographer the young man was lazy? Simply because he was sitting down, all scrunched up in the phone booth? Maybe he was tired? Maybe he isn't lazy, but had worked so hard and so long, he would take any rest he could find. Maybe he had partied too hard. And when are where was the photograph taken? Where can you find old fashioned phone booths like that anymore? Especially handicapped accessible ones? The booths looked to be built long before the advent of ADA laws. And where was the young man's cell phone? They all have cell phones.

"It is surprising, however, what a crucial role ambiguity does play in art. This seems largely an issue of appeal: if art is not open enough to appeal to a wide variety of people over a broad span of time, it will be insular and occasional, too tied up in a particular time and place....It is not just openness, however, that lends the ambiguity of art such power: it is also its inability to be analyzed. Something that we are confident we comprehend is of no interest," a blog post by Amy Cannon at Evangelical Outpost states, summarizing the thoughts of Terry Teachout over at the Wall Street Journal summing up a recent study by a couple of London blokes, among others. (And isn't that a strange string, even without by friend Jake who shared the post via Google Reader.)

"In general– as Teachout says–we live in 'a prosy, commonsense world where everything has a name and most things have an explanation.' Great art is experienced as transcendent in part because it does not yield itself easily to explanation."

It reminds me of The Great Stupa of Dharmakaya, Which Liberates Upon Seeing. It is said to do so because upon first site the stupa fails to fall within any of our preconceived mental categories. It shakes up our world a bit and makes up question the neat order of our mind. Maybe all great art is like that. Anything that evokes "don't know mind" is a little bit of dharma.

Artists are all telling us to wake up without even realizing it (or maybe they do).

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