I Aten’t Dead (an Intermission)

Okay, I *really* need to be working on the PowerPoint presentation for my research class, but I’m tired and cold and I have a horrid cough and I just chugged a Red Bull (1% vitamins, 10% caffeine, 89% antifreeze) and I am procrastinating. For a minute.

I do NOT get performance art.  How is it art?  I know I tend to be the prescriptive, pain-in-the-assy type who calls Rodin big-A Art and a child’s fingerpainting little-a art.  I also call the craft of artisans “craft” without shame, since the skilled artisans in my family view craftsmanship with pride.  The planning and design of useful things, as much as their execution, makes them beautiful and worthwhile.  But what is Art, or art?

Hard to say, specifically — but I can create a boundary by saying what it is *not*.  Art is NOT “hey, wouldn’t it be cool if I put a ball of yarn in my hoo-ha and knitted it out?”  That is something we may not have a word for.  We need a word for it.  Sometimes it’s interesting or significant or challenging.  Most often it’s just a trick, a prod, a visual joke, a sneering comment on mainstream society.  More than anything it seems like a desperate act on the part of someone who craves attention or understanding.  Exhibitionists and narcissists.  Like some angry stand-up comedy acts, it seems like cheap therapy or some other attempt to work out personal ya-yas in front of a crowd. 

And part of this might be a failure of understanding on my part, or even a gut reaction.  Whatever I may be now, I was brought up to be a reserved and prim Christian country girl.  The type who purses her lips and looks away from ostentatious display.  But I don’t think this is my problem.  If strippers and pole dancers delight me, the problem might not be some inner prude flaring her nostrils. 

Perhaps it’s related to my grumpiness about people who pull self-deprivation stunts to “raise awareness” for a cause.  This is moving from the banal to the meaningful, and comparing the two puts me on dangerous ground.  But I am infuriated by people who do this.

Let me distinguish between them and people who are willing to die for the cause.  If you care about something so much that you are willing to hold yourself hostage to it — to go down with the tree you are trying to keep from being cut, to starve to death to get a prisoner freed, to face the tanks in the knowledge that they might not stop — I applaud your conviction and am moved by it, even if I do not endorse your cause. That’s not what I’m discussing here.

If you erect a pup tent on campus with a sign that says you are sleeping out of doors for three days to raise awareness for homelessness, I will write in your guestbook, “THERE IS A GUY LIVING IN THE DOORWAY ON THE NEXT BLOCK WHO COULD BE SLEEPING IN THIS TENT RIGHT NOW”.  If you are on a weekend fast to raise awareness for food insecure children, I will copy and paste your comment from last week about how you would like to lose a few pounds before spring break. 

You people are trivializing your (nominal) causes and revealing your true purpose:  to raise awareness of how cool you think you are, or would like to be.  There is no one on campus or on Facebook who is NOT AWARE of homelessness or hunger (or breast cancer, or whatever.)  You are NOT saving any gay baby whales for Jesus.  You are simply making a banal, self-serving spectacle of yourself.  You are committing an act of performance art.


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