Not Art


All Rights Reserved © 2015 Thomas W. Day

not_artI don’t know if Andy and Aerostich created this sticker for me, but they should have if they didn’t. For most of my adult life, the word “art” has meant something different to me than, probably, to the rest of the world. I’ve even created my own etymological backstory for the origins of the word art: “a modernization and abbreviation of the French ‘art brut,’ or ‘art done by prisoners, lunatics, etc.'” The natural adaptation of that word to modern applications would be “not good.”

A good bit of my opinion of art and artists comes from decades of seeing materials misused, adhesives and fasteners poorly applied, and welds so miserably executed that even extreme grinding can’t hide the turkey-crap splatter. At one time, I was a fairly decent stick welder and moderately decent with wire-fed welding on steel. Today, those skills are long in my past but I can still recognize good work when I see it. I’m not a great carpenter or cabinetmaker, but I have done enough of that work to know when I’m looking at a piece I would have no chance in hell of building myself. I’ve been some kind of musician almost all of my adult life and I know what I could play and what I couldn’t and I try to spend as little time listening to something I do myself. When it comes to musicianship, I am my own definition of “artistic.”

Forty-some years ago, I took an architectural tour of famous Chicago buildings (mostly recording studios and live music venues). When the tour stopped at a Frank Lloyd Wright building I got separated from the group when I was distracted by a couple of guys working on an overhang at the back of the building. As they described the work they were doing and the fact that kind of work had been done all over the house, I commented that didn’t sound like maintenance but something more like re-engineering. They agreed and went on to describe how generally poorly Wright’s designs fit the materials he used and how much of this particular building had been gutted and redesigned with structural improvements.

NotArt6_0My wife, a visual artist, has the typical artist’s distain for what she calls “artisans.” I don’t bother to look up that word or to invent my own definition of the word because we’ve had this discussion for fifty years. It’s pretty obvious that the work of an artisan is something a “real artist” couldn’t compete with in a million years. Those impossibly complicated wooden bowls with inlay work so fine and detailed that it seems only magical elves could have done the work receives the disdainful classification as “artsy-craftsy” or artisan-created. A lump of clay so poorly formed that it couldn’t hold water if that water was frozen solid would be “artistic.” A photo-realistic airbrushed painting of a zebra in full punk body piercings and Oakley shades is not “art” (the only airbrush/oil painting I have ever purchased in my 67 years) but a paint-globbed and tire-tracked, over-priced canvas is. And so it goes. A friend recently explained that I wouldn’t get a particularly irritating piece of music because “it’s art, Tom.” He was right. It was awful. I didn’t get it at all. Whether the performer was really good at pretending to be talentless or he was simply talentless makes no points with me. I try to never let other people scream for me. I can do a bad job all on my own. If I’m going to buy something, it will be something I absolutely can not do myself.

Likewise, I don’t have a lot of use for arty motorcycles. I despise the whole concept of machines with NotArt“character” (unreliability and pointless weirdness). Chrome and blinking LEDs are fine for Xmas trees, but putting that crap on a motorcycle means you live for polishing metal and replacing control circuits. I buy motorcycles to go places I can’t go in a cage. Mechanical devices are, and should be, functional first and when they are really functional their form simply becomes beautiful effortlessly. Saying “form follows function” should be obvious and when form replaces function, count me out. I’ll find my “art” in things that work, do stuff, and have a purpose.

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