Monday, March 29, 2010

The [Exciting] Museum Life

When visiting museums as a child, and even into my adolescence, I always had these grand expectations about what happened "behind the scenes". I imagined underground hallways, tunnels, and rooms and rooms full of art work that was not on display...

So when I started my internship at the Nelson-Atkins Museum I thought, "Great! I can finally see what happens when the museum in closed." Well, ha. Meetings and tours. That's what happens when the museum is closed. I actually work off-site at One Main Park, on the 5th floor, with other museum employees, enjoying our cubicles. While I thought I would be IN the museum, constantly surrounded by ever-changing exhibits and kindergartners holding hands, it has been a really interesting experience.

Besides meeting some really nice museum personnel, I've been able to walk around the museum while it was closed, enjoying each room in total privacy. Not having to trip over elementary school field trips is a luxury in my eyes. I've also been able to see the stacks, the enormous library collection underneath the museum. Temperature controled, badge access only's pretty fun. It plays into my childhood fantasy of the "exclusive" side of the museum.

I'm really looking forward to visiting "the caves" next. The off-site storage of all the artwork not currently on display. I have an image in my mind of what it looks like, but maybe I've just seen too many movies...

Valet Log: Deep Sector 7 (lucky #7)

"If I was smarter I would have motivated my self more as a child to be something more glamorous." Said Andrew, when asked why he was soaking wet. I have a job that forces me to run in and out of most of the good and bad elements.

But, honestly growing up my dream job was to become a garbage man. I mostly wanted to ride on the rear of the truck while someone else drove really fast. But, my motivations never carried me to the waste management. Just to junk management. Going in to this job I imagined that would be driving at least a Porsche right? Wrong... Most gambling addicts don't have it in there budget to buy a Porsche or gasoline for the cars they do have. I can face the facts better then most. But, my co-workers on the other hand tend to get down trodden about the situation.

It's a well known fact between all of us that most people don't tip. So, my fellow comrades find other ways of making the work place a little more entertaining. Mostly involves daring stunts like driving through the parking garage in reverse and occasionally chasing geese around the parking lot. It's all done to kill time. In a way replace the tip that we should have gotten. The tip that makes up the majority of our hourly wage. The smiles that form on their faces when they tell you about the nasty car they just parked is the tip i take home. The weird smells and that the funny cars that I drive and the stories I hear. The stupid jokes and crazy conversations. These things are all food for thought and that is what keeps me coming back.

The things you see are like nothing you will see anywhere else. I guess you could say I'm addicted to documenting people who are addicted to gambling.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

What Is Art For? Reflections on Ellen Dissanayake

"What Is Art For?" "Homo Aestheticus"and "Art and Intimacy" are three books that Ellen Dissanayake has published. Her work has been described as burning a new path in the way art is critically addressed and defined. "Although human ethologists have speculated about the origin and evolutionary function of many kinds of human behavior, art, which is after all a universal characteristic or "behavior" of humankind has not yet received much serious biologically based attention." Ellen Dissanayake gives art some serious biologically based attention in her books while addressing subjects varying from what does art do for people, the evolution of the behavior of art and the importance of feeling.

At a recent lecture held at UCM, Ellen gave a brief introductory to the underlying anthropological philosophies used in her three books. Ellen broke down the information into three categories and them elaborated on each one. The major themes included;
1. Social and material lives for modern(industrialized) and premodern(non industrialized) life
2. Making and Material and its importance
3. Everyone is an Artist

According to Ellen, premodern life on the human timeline stretches back much farther than the short time that is considered modern life for current industrialized humans. With this shift in life styles there has also been a shift in the way our social lives have been treated, and in her opinion many base needs that were once met have become neglected.

Premodern life was described as;
1. hunter gatherer society - no food storage
2. small intimate groups - 10-20
3. kin organization - everyone is considered family(biologically or not)
4. shared ideas - group mentality same ideas/goals
5. assigned identities - everyone had a position they had to fill
6. ritual ceremonies pervaded life
7. everything made with hands

Modern life was described as;
1. earn money buy things/accumulation is available
2. societies of strangers
3. Nation states
4. pluralistic culture - no one mind set
5. create own identity - you don't necessarily have a position that has to be filled
6. scientific explanation - instead of mythological
7. push buttons or non physical creation
8. nature at a distance - no direct relation/AC Central Heat
9. elitist idea of Art

Ellen then went on to describe five emotional needs premodern life provided that modern life neglects
1. mutuality - one love with another / baby to mother / lovers
2. belonging - an identity within a group
3. Meaning - for what you do and who you are
4. Competence - being able/ watching and doing (incompetence - computer illiterate people = helplessness)
5. Elaboration - showing that you really care about something / embellishment   

Making and Materiality was the second subject that Ellen addressed in her lecture. She began it with the basic history of the liberation of the first humans hands for locomotion and their ability to be used in a creative manner. This was then developed into the pleasure of creating something new with your hands, body, and mind. This pleasure is something that has been neglected in everyday Modern life. Art was then proposed as the process of transformation. Linked back to the earliest example of culture or transformation and the example used by Bill Reid in his Book "The Raw and The Cooked", the act of processing food or cooking food was considered the earliest sign of culture or art. A more recent example was given with Herbert Cole's appropriation of the title with "The Raw the Cooked and the Gourmet." The idea that culture or art is created by the transformation based on aesthetic and high culture or art is the refinement or Elaboration of that transformation. Ellen then proposed that the term art be gotten rid of in total and that "ordinary and extraordinary" be instated in its place.

This statement transitioned the lecture into her final theme We Are All Artists. We all have the capability to make the extraordinary and to acknowledge things that are extraordinary therefor we are all artists. Through our most basic ceremonies and rituals we all make extraordinary events and objects. Whether it is the super bowl or the symbolic items we keep secret in our safest places, everyone has the capability to embellish and create symbolic significance.

As a whole this lecture made since to me in its most basic principles but i wasn't completely satisfied with the information. I will ask you the same question i asked her to see if i can gain some more clarity with this information. If we are all Artists and we can all make the ordinary extraordinary, what role do you think the Museum spaces and gallery spaces have in the definition, presentation and path of art and the artist?