I stumbled across this TED Talk held by Nora Atkinson, Lloyd Herman Curator of Craft at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Since I studied Art History in my BA, I’m somehow still connected to art and try to keep me updated on the scene. Which actually is super hard since the art world has become so global and therefore huge.
Atkinson presents pieces of art in her talk which have been created for or during the Burning Man festivals throughout the years. I actually only knew Burning Man from several Instagram accounts, seeing people heading out into the desert for a few days. That this actually is an event of community and art has come to me a little later. At Burning Man a temporary city is erected in the Black Rock Desert of northwest Nevada. Primarily you will find large scale interactive installation art here. The event is based on a few principals such as radical inclusion, gifting, leaving no trace and participation (just to name a few from a list).
Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be an article about the Burning Man event but Nora Atkinson uses the works of art created especially for this occasion to emphasize another topic: the value of art. And with value she isn’t speaking about the price but the emotional one. In today’s world, buying and selling of art works gets more attention than the art work itself. When it comes to a report about an auction the news mostly highlight the prices for which the pieces have been sold. And Atkinson really clearly highlights: do we care about these art works because the moved us or because they are expensive and we think they are supposed to be?
I absolutely love her approach to this topic and how she stands up for redefining art by its emotional value rather than its price tag. And when thinking of my time as an art history student, I so often failed to understand a true value of a piece of art. We are educated to learn that art has a price tag. High or low, depending on the market and the value people assign to the piece. But that has nothing to do with the emotional value which could arise by admiring a piece of art. Behind all the big names and the price tags, we forget the deeper, emotional value of art.
Which piece of art has emotionally moved me? So hard to say because actually there aren’t so many. I stood in front of the Mona Lisa, I have seen pieces by Picasso, Manet, Dalí, Michelangelo, Rubens, Jeff Koons, Andy Warhol and so many more. Classical and contemporary art. But what has truly moved me? There are two pieces of art, which I haven’t experienced live but just the images and videos of it have caught my attention. One being Christopher Schardt’s Firmament shown during Burning Man in 2015 and the other being Olafur Eliasson’s temporary installation The Weather Project at the Tate Modern in London (wrote an essay on this during my Master studies in dance science).
I can’t even bring to words what has caught my attention in these two pieces but I guess they somehow have a calming effect on me. No chaos, no overstimulation, just some calming light. Without knowing the creative background of the pieces, that came afterwards. After they caught my interest.
Art and how we see/experience it is different to each of us. But being in a museum and walking from label to label will not let us truly dive into the value of the piece hanging or standing in front of us. As Atkinson puts forward: the entire story of an art work can’t be stored in the little sign next to it.
In her presentation she also presents the The Temple project created by David Best & The Temple Crew for Burning Man since 2000. Shortly before the event, a member of the team was killed in an tragic accident. The building became a memorial where the visitors of Burning Man leave messages all over the architecture. Highly intimate messages of the experience of loss. On the last night of the event, the temple is burned just like the Man. Since I have been confronted with tragic loss, I would love to experience this work of art once in my life. Just to see if it can truly touch me. Not only through images and videos, thousands of kilometers apart.
So, where is this article leading to? Let’s rethink our way of seeing art, not always measure it by the price they obtain at an auction. But to actually look at it and find the value for ourselves.