Like most amateur unsophisticated art enthusiasts, I tend to think of visual art as something permanent and unchanging. Part of the thrill of seeing a great (or at least famous) piece of art is imagining Michelangelo’s hammer and chisel on the rock that I see, or van Gogh’s paint brush swabbing on that splash of color. And we like to imagine that they are exactly as they were when created.
I have in my house a painted innertube given to me by a local artist friend after his display on the Avenue of the Arts. It’s a fascinating piece, and I have it mounted high and out of the way, which robs it of most of its fascination. Part of the thrill of the piece is the sensuality of its soft, rounded curves. Part of the appeal is its squeezability. I know this is sounding mildly erotic, but I know this guy and, yes, I know he intends thoughts that would make you blush.
But rubber degenerates over time (pun intended) and paint flakes off. Already, the inner tube has lost some air and grown a bit slack and flabby. Is this a an intentional commentary on the impact of aging on sensuality? I will just leave that one unanswered, but I have a hunch.
But the point is that my grandchildren won’t experience this art this piece of art in the same way I have. It will likely be tossed out after failing to attract a buyer in an estate sale. At a time, it had – perhaps still has, I don’t know – a fair amount of monetary value. Larger, similar works went for 4 or 5 figures on the coasts. Honestly, that’s why I put it up on the high shelf; I don’t want some knucklehead spilling wine on something that might have monetary value, so I have deprived everybody of the experience of touching and squeezing it.
The ironic thing is that when I saw Michelangelo’s David at the Accademia in Florence, it is rigged up with sophisticated sensors measuring the stress on the marble at various points. Give that thing a good shaking, and if I understood the tags properly, the David will become a moderately well hung Venus de Milo.
Art is not truly permanent. Even if it were, its audience is inconstant and will miss the subtleties of the artist’s message within, at best, a generation. The fact that we still love van Gogh even though we do not know the political context of The Potato Eaters has at least as much to do with acceptance of artistic convention as real merit in the piece. How is Warhol’s art changing as pop culture becomes historical? How would we understand the resulting art if a Warhol ancestor in the Revolutionary era had presented Martha Washington the way Andy presented Marilyn Monroe?
Statues crumble. Symbols change meaning. Audiences bring different attitudes. Get what you can out of it today.
But keep your paws off my innertube.