Art Is a Laboratory

Courtesy of

What is art? It defines itself ostensively. That is, when you try to define it with words, you find yourself at a loss for words.

Art is a hallowed word. We reserve it for the meritorious. But what merits it? There is no consensus as to what that even means, what the criteria are.

Some say that art is a way of living. This nullifies itself. If art is a way of living, then you define art on your own terms, which means that art is both everything and nothing at all, simultaneously. Intended democracy (giving voices to all) can result in inadvertent anarchy (voices overlapping into noise) on the level of language itself.

I say that art is a laboratory where people can create, experiment, without consequence. The artist is the person who dares.

Marina Abramovic is considered the grandmother of performance art. In Rhythm 0 (1974), her most famous work, she placed 72 items on a table. These items included a rose, a whip, a gun. A sign informed observers that they could interact with her using these items–she became a compliant body, they could do whatever they wanted. For 6 hours.

Some “cut up [her] clothes, stuck rose thorns in [her] stomach, one person aimed the gun at [her] head, and another took it away. After exactly 6 hours, as planned, [she] stood up and started walking toward the audience. Everyone ran away, to escape an actual confrontation.”

Abramovic collaborated with a man named Uray. They aspired to a hermaphroditic state–a “two-headed body”–in which their respective selves died. When things grew tense between them, they staged a parting on the Great Wall of China. They began at both ends–Uray from the Gobi Desert, Abramavic from the Yellow Sea–and met in the middle. This was in 1988. In 2010, they reunited at MoMa. You can watch their reunion here:

Living can be an art, if you dare. But don’t make it an excuse for sociopathic deviance, for becoming out of tune with tact. Don’t dare headlong. Don’t become this parody:

Posted by James


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