Art That Means Something

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 17, 2014

Following on our discussion on “Art and Death,” which arose at last week’s meeting, over the weekend I happened to read an article in the New York Times Sunday magazine on the artist Olafur Eliasson. I was breezing along when this passage in particular got me to put my tea down and sit up straighter on the pillows:

“There’s a reason why Eliasson feels an imperative to appeal to the broadest possible audience. He believes that in normal life we have a tendency to hurry along on autopilot, seldom questioning our deeper assumptions. Art, by goosing the senses, can make us more conscious of our positions in time, space, hierarchy, society, culture, the planet. In the long run, this heightened consciousness will result in change for the better — emotionally, socially, politically.”

Ah-ha! A non-ironical artist! Just what we were talking about in the Old New Way.

(On a sidenote, while reading this article I suddenly remembered that about seven years ago Renée and I took our kids to an Olafur Eliasson exhibit at SFMOMA. It was memorable. One room held a car entirely made of ice. But as we walked through the exhibit and gazed at the art, our son Cole, who was two, kept repeating the word “pine-cone.” “Pine cone?” Renée and I asked, looking at each other quizzically. “Why pine cone, Cole?” It wasn’t until we came to the final room of the exhibit, a small chamber that held the materials that Eliasson had collected as the inspiration behind his recent work, that we got our answer. At the center, in a clear lucite box sat… a single pine cone. The accompanying text stated that all of the work we had seen was, in Eliasson’s mind, a variation, a kind of riff, on its structure. For a moment we were speechless. “Pine cone!” said Cole, pointing to it with a look of deep satisfaction. “That’s right,” I finally answered him. “You had it right all along.”)

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