Almost immediately, students in the class started yelling stuff: "leaves, cactus, seashells, car tire, etc......" He yelled "STOP! Be quiet!" Despite his warning, people kept trying to identify each image that popped up on the wall. After a few minutes, the professor started yelling and quickly shut off the projector. Then, he ran out of the art studio. We all just stood there, finally silent. You could tell he was PISSED off. Most of us "wet behind the earlings" didn't understand why he was so upset. It took me a few years, but I finally understood his angst.
I had a flashback of this scenario recently on Facebook. I saw a post by
Frank Strunk III. He posted a pic of one of his works.
There was no title or description. It was just a beautiful metal form. It was a sculpture. People started to comment immediately and the nouns started to fly. It is THIS. It is THAT. It is WHATEVER. I commented it is a sculpture. It doesn't have to BE anything else. This made me start thinking about why we need to label things. Why do we humans feel the need to name what we see? Apparently, this is a common response to our world and especially, when we see art. Are we trying to make sense of what we see or is this a push to understand things we don't understand? It seems to have to be SOMETHING other than just art.
Almost simultaneously to this incident, I watched an interview with sculptor Richard Serra on the Charlie Rose Show. This same topic became part of the conversation. Currently, Serra is showing his work at two Gagosian Gallery locations in New York. The work is beautiful, monumental works of steel. Mr. Rose mentioned that one of the pieces was being referred to as the "Cemetery" by some patrons.
Serra balked at this reference. In fact, he seemed flustered for a moment. Rose saw his reaction to that interpretation and asked why it seemed to upset him. He went on to tell how giving things names limits our art experience. To use "monikers" tends to give in to a type of judgment that narrows the reaction to the art. He went on to describe what a cemetery was: burial ground with stones with words, things lie beneath, etc. He emphatically defended his work as being none of those things. Instead, he wanted observers to walk into the piece and experience the weight, form, and juxtaposition of the materials without a preconceived notion of what is was supposed to BE.