A list of things I never pictured myself doing: lying on a bed with a stranger, staring up at an amoeba-shaped screen on the ceiling, and watching a slow-motion video of people and plants underwater. Such was the experience at The New Museum’s featured exhibit: Pixel Forest by Pipilotti Rist. The unnerving soundtrack accompanying the video further added to my discomfort, confusion, and honestly, boredom.
Two days later, when I heard a familiar unnerving song coming from my New York City roommate’s laptop, I was reminded how different my tastes in art were from hers.
I spent two weeks exploring New York City’s art scene through the Honors travel course ASAG 3350. We met with our professor three times; the rest of our time was spent running up and down Broadway, taking the wrong metro train, dancing in the snow in Central Park, and, of course, art, art, and more art.
I’ve always had a thing for art history. In the fourth grade I competed in UIL Art Smart, essentially “how many paintings and painters can you identify?” Walking through the galleries of The Met, I was in heaven. I spent hours looking at pieces from ancient Egypt, medieval Europe, Africa, Mesoamerica, Greece, and more.
It turns out some of my friends were less than impressed by 2,000-year-old vases and portraits of broody aristocrats. “Eh,” was one of the most common phrases I heard used to describe my favorite museum, The Met Cloisters, a small branch of The Met focused on medieval European art. For them, it was too steeped in history, too stagnant, and too boring.
The face of art is changing. Art is no longer just a DaVinci hanging on a wall; it can be immersive, interactive, and full of a wide variety of mediums. Many of the museums we visited in New York featured unorthodox, avant-garde, and even unsettling exhibits. One of my least favorite exhibits was simply a Samsung refrigerator sitting in a room with speakers that poured a monotonic, robotic voice into the room describing the inner feelings of the appliance. The artist claimed that he always wondered what it was like to be a refrigerator so one day he huffed Freon just to get a taste of .
These kinds of exhibits really just confused me. Some students in the class, however, loved them. Some students loved the design aspects of some exhibits we visited. Some appreciated large installation pieces. Some particularly enjoyed the immersive cinematic exhibits we saw.
Art has been taking a new direction for much of the last century. It is constantly evolving into something new and exciting and always employs new mediums as they become available. But have we lost something with our now severe lack of traditional landscapes and portraits, decorative vases, or marble sculptures? Has the introduction of new media including video, photography, and other technologies made the art of today less valuable?
I spent a great portion of my time in New York considering what makes art valuable. For me, history plays a role in a piece’s value. For others, the value of a piece comes from the emotions it evokes within them. Others find value from the technique or effort required to create a piece. Despite how much it costs to insure the priceless Woman in Gold (“Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I” by Gustav Klimt) at the Neue Galerie, you really can’t objectively place a value on a piece of art.
So how do we decide if the new direction of art is a good one or not? We keep creating and we keep viewing. I don’t personally want to see more refrigerator exhibits in the future, but if that piece has value to someone, who am I to devalue it?
Art has always involved a certain private relationship between the work and the viewer. It is in these intimate moments viewing a piece that we place value on art. Perhaps our professor’s most wise words to us during our trip were essentially this: find something beautiful in the noise. The world has always been filled with noise, and it is up to us to personally find beauty in that noise. In New York, I heard no noise wandering through the hallways of The Met. As art continues to evolve over my lifetime, I look forward to seeing how my views toward art will evolve as well. Art has never been stagnant, and it is this ever-changing collection of paint, ceramic, marble, cloth, pixels, sound bites, and more that will always inspire us to find beauty in the world.
This article was written by Camille Aucoin. Click here to see more of Camille’s work.