07 November 2005

Invisible Art, Silent Music

Of all the crazy stuff that happened in the 20th century it is important not to forget some of the more traumatic moments in the arts. There are more than the two I will discuss in this segment, but these two seem to be a good mix of extremity and accessibility.

Invisible Art
Although there are a lot of examples of this, the one that I think is best suited to the occasion is Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty.

This belongs to a movement known as Earth Works. Artists started rearranging or manipulating or “sculpting” the landscape to produce a work of art. There were a lot of reasons why artists started doing Earth Works. Some liked that you couldn’t really buy it or sell it at auction, you couldn’t put it in a museum, you couldn’t reproduce it as one of a series.

So back to the Spiral Jetty. Smithson made it in 1970, and ever since, it has been there, and then eventually not been there as the water level of the Great Salt Lake has risen and fallen. Of course, it is still there, but there are times when you can’t see that it is. It was for this reason that I never saw the Spiral Jetty even though I lived not far away for quite a while.

Silent Music
As I’ve already admitted elsewhere, I’m not that knowledgeable about music. I know enough to know that I really don’t know enough—um, yeah.

Every now and then, something I come across in the world of music really sticks in my mind, and John Cage’s 1952 piece 4’33” is part of that crowd. For three timed sections, the musician is silent—plays nothing—and then it is over.

So admittedly these things are a bit crazy. What is the point of art that can’t be seen and music that can’t be heard? In the case of 4’33”, there was arguably no music to listen to in the first place. At least the Spiral Jetty was there even if it out of sight for a few years. So, reader, you tell me. Is this sort of thing ok? Is it conceptualism gone too far?


cris said...

Hmmm...as a complete art (and music) dunce, I'd say that at least the Spiral Jetty actually exists. (And things that are only seen rarely are often considered more precious -- which is why people will freeze their butts off on a January night to see a comet because it won't come around again for another 200 years...even though they won't be able to distinguish that particular comet from any of the others that are scheduled to travel past the earth that year.)

I think the 4'3'' musical piece is bologna. Okay, there may be some people out there who think the piece is a very deep meditation on the noisy world and people's need for silence...yadda yadda. I'd like to direct those people's attention to this item on sale now.

Mary Ann said...

I liked Cris's comments about rarity and the value it adds. So far as I know, Smithson knew that the Spiral would submerge and re-emerge repeatedly over time. That was part of the idea of the work, so I'm left wondering about that. What would happen if the level of the lake rose and nobody saw it for a generation or more? As I recall, it was a big deal when the water level went down recently, exposing the Jetty for the first time in several years. NPR and other news sources reported on it.

katperkins said...

I think whatever people want to do is okay as long as it doesn't injure other people. These examples are harmless. The music thing is kind of stupid though. That's what it would sound like if I tried to produce a musical piece and I don't go around calling myself a musician. I am interested to know how they separated it into three sections if there is no sound produced. I know you're busy, but I'm especially interested in your's and Matt's opinions on my portfolio now available on my blog. Everything except Graphic Design I.

Josh said...

cage is a much better philosopher and writer than he ever was a composer (my humble opinion). but, i think you're missing the point of 4'33" when you use the term "silent." it isn't silent at all. there quite a lot of sound filling the hall while that piece is being performed. i didn't put performed facetiously in quotation marks because it is being performed.. just not by the guy sitting at the piano. it's being performed by the guy's stomach growling. or the program being rustled of the ramdom cough or occassional snicker. the squeaky chair. you get the point. it's not a questioning of the musical substance of silence, but of the musical substance of random sounds.

Josh said...

and that minor detail may not make a difference to most people. hehe

Terra said...

I get what Josh is saying but I still don't know if I can get behind a Not Performing "performance". It reminds me of the "deep" conversations libral art students have where they asked if I had "really thought" about such and such. The Spiral Jetty is really cool. I'd never heard of it before and I also lived in SLC for several years. The fact that the artist knew if wouldn't be seen at times adds to the concept (I think).

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