Is It Art?

By: Lavinia Plonka

Let each (wo)man exercise the art(s) he knows.
Aristophanes (sort of)

I was visiting Venice a few years ago. Gosh, I love saying that.  I feel like one of those people who wave their martini or white wine (without spilling a drop) and gush, “When Henry and I were in the Galapagos last spring…”, “You know, I ran into GiGi at the Paris Opera on our last visit…”, “Oh, dear, remember when the Duchess and I walked out of that dreadful play on London’s West End…” My pinky starts to shoot out the side and my chin starts pointing skyward. Then I remember that I’m still paying off the Visa bill for that trip …
Back to Venice.  It happened to be the year of the Biennale.  Every two years, Venice hosts an international arts event.  One section of the city is a dedicated park with pavilions that were built from the 1920’s to the 1960’s housing each country’s installation.  Not every country is represented in this park, since the Biennale began when certain parts of the world didn’t know that art was something to be visited and purchased.  Those countries’ artists were busy dancing spirits into or out of the village, decorating pots for use in the home, making sculptures of their gods for ceremonial rituals, and composing music sung by the entire tribe.  So now countries like Iceland, Vietnam and Senegal have their installations in venues around the city.  You come out of a shop selling any number of pencil drawings or pastels of gondoliers (is that art?) and stumble into a Malaysian installation composed of two thousand action figures arranged on a tinsel wrapped pyramid. Iceland had dedicated an entire building to elf sightings.  Some countries emphasized the financial success of the artists (listing collections, museums, and items for purchase).  Others quixotically offered experiences like a huge dark room with a gigantic waterbed you could lie on while listening to unintelligible whispers on a soundtrack. 
Is art a commodity or an experience?  Are you an artist only if your work sells, or if you have moved someone by your efforts, even if you don’t make a dime?  Or neither?  Can you be an artist if no one ever sees your sculpture or hears you play the piano?  My artist husband Ron swings wildly back and forth between pursuing his definition of beauty and trying to figure out what will sell.  Andy Warhol once said, “Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.” But he also said, “An artist is somebody who produces things that people don’t need to have.” Yet I can just hear people talking at a gala saying, “I just had to have that sculpture on my lawn!”
I know someone who waited on line for four hours at the Museum of Modern Art when Marina Abramovic—had her latest show.  Abramovic—sat in the center of the room and by turns, each person sat opposite her and looked into her eyes.  That was it. My friend said it was an extraordinary experience that transcended explanation.  I wondered if it would have been just as extraordinary to look into someone else’s eyes.  Would it have been art?  And if so, who was the artist; the person who sat there, or the person who took the risk to look? Is Abramovic—the artist because the Museum said she was?
There is something about the act of creation that is one of the most satisfying experiences of being human.  I carry a vivid memory of the joy of creating a city out of mud I had shaped into towers using my mother’s best glassware. She was not nearly as pleased as I was.
Whether it’s the perfect turkey burger, pleasing flower arrangement, or spectacular production of Carmen, the artist resides in each of us.  Is the urge to create an egotistical impulse or some deep desire to link with “the Creator”?  Is it possible that each time I make a collage, or pull out my accordion to wail a gypsy melody that in my small way, I am playing, gulp, God?  Each time I write or act out in a play, am I not in some way a reflection of the grand theatrical performance called life?  Well, who created that?
When I was in Switzerland this past summer, (oops, there goes my pinky again), I was walking through a village outside Zurich.  In the middle of the town was a small plaza.  Surrounding an obelisk were dozens of gnomes and other small figurines, arranged with Swiss precision around the spire.  What touched me most of all was a lone dwarf, dressed in green, standing apart looking at the group.  Was he an outcast?  A visitor?  Were the other gnomes waiting in line to look into his eyes?  Was this the remnant of an installation from the Biennale?  Or was it perhaps some ancient, esoteric ritual that goes with cow bells?  I won’t forget it too soon and I thank the anonymous artist for providing me with an experience that transcends explanation.

When not making mudpies in the shape of Cabbage Patch dolls, Lavinia opens creative doors for the art of living via the Feldenkrais Method® and The Creative Body.


Lavinia Plonka
Written by Lavinia Plonka