Diane Bayeux | For art's sake


Lines of Perspective | What extreme performance artists tell us about the relationship between art and money




While walking with a friend in West Philly the other day, she pointed to a mural that I had forgotten to look at. For some reason, this led us to talk about the fact that we both were appreciative of any kind of art in general. Any art, whether it was done during the Renaissance or the Modern Age, whether it encompasses the impressionist or contemporary movement , is valuable not only for its aesthetics , but also for the time and effort put into it . Yet, there seems to be a lessened enthusiasm of many to appreciate a sort of new art that comes off as art done for sheer fame.

Millie Brown, also called the ‘Vomit Painter,’ starves herself for two days before drinking dyed soy milk in a mixture of colors, swallowed at different intervals of time, before vomiting on a blank canvas. Due to the splash of colors, she has been compared to Jackson Pollock and her performance, normally filmed during an entire day, has appeared officially in one of Lady Gaga’s videos, “Puke Film.” Her work can be seen as a raw human experience pushing mental and physical boundaries given that she takes her performance as a body cleanse and she feels that she is challenging people’s perceptions of beauty.

While critics have recognized the abstract beauty of her work, other critics have also questioned her motives in undertaking such a constraining project. They are questioning whether Brown is truly doing it for art’s sake and in order to challenge people’s feelings and beliefs, or if Brown is acting out of a desire to reach the audience more quickly and broadly by acting the most radically. Given that her canvases will be up for sale soon and many maintain that now is a good time to invest in her, it is hard to follow one side of reasoning.

Perhaps the true motives that need to be discussed here are those of the audience. Indeed, an artwork is valued on different levels according to the public’s reaction. Without the public, an artwork can sit in an empty space forever. In the movie “Two Days in New York,” the protagonist, an artist, sells her pieces only when it is rumored that she is almost dying.

The public rushes inside the gallery to buy her works solely because it would be cheaper then than after her death. This movie shows the way in which the public sees art now. Unfortunately, it seems that art is no longer seen as a story told but as a monetary value.

This frustrates me because I grew up in a semi-artistic world, have friends interested in making art for a living and consider eventually going into writing or journalism later. It is difficult to go into a profession knowing that what is produced is only going to be considered as what sells more rather than for its content.

The only thing reassuring me through my frustration was my visit to the Whitney Museum for the Biennial during spring break . While the exhibition gave a spectrum of glitter, wall paintings, nudity, sexuality and intimate invasion — including a warning that children should not cross certain pathways displaying overly explicit pieces — the exhibition was also about documenting a series of photographs that stood out from the rest. A transgender couple, Zachary Drucker and Rhys Ernst, is photographed throughout their daily lives, putting queer consciousness in the front line, as each took each other’s gender. The beautiful snapshots allow a certain distance and yet invite us to get to know them, or simply how they live as a couple and as individuals.

Perhaps the difference here is that the series seems to be grounded in reality given that there is an omnipresent sense of personal storytelling here. The same effect is visible in some of my friends’ photography projects around Penn, whether it is for a class or a personal project. The public seems more apt to respond normally to photography because it remains simple in its own way; it is never really considered out of the ordinary, forbidding this attain-fame aspect.

Diane Bayeux is a College freshman from Paris. Her email address is dbayeux@sas.upenn.edu.

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