(Scribbled down in ballpoint in the columns of the Op-Ed page of Saturday's NY Times in the parking lot at Trader Joe's Crystal Cove store.) Okay, Carly, consider me baited! (See "Comments", Thursday.) There's something to be said, for sure, for having a strongly-held point of view when it comes to art--or perhaps to anything else, for that matter. It provides a place to stand and, for an artist I'm sure, as for a writer, a framework within which to work. There's something to be said for standards--criteria by which to judge what's good, what's not so good, what's bad. They provide some clarity in an often confusing arena. But they don't always work, especially when they prove unusefully restrictive.
I take issue, then, with your too easy dismissal--my judgment--of the work of artists who don't fit in with your prior determination as to what qualifies as art and what does not. I personally respond to art that challenges me to think, to re-appraise, to widen my understanding of art--and eventually, most importantly, of myself. My point about Chris Burden was that it spoke to both the mind and the heart about the differences between youth and age. I found both humor and pathos in rhe insallation, as well as food for a good deal of reflection on wider social and cultural issues. Beyond the fact that it was not hand-made by the artist and not partiucarly beautiful in the conventional sense, the piece did have a certain "presence" in the gallery, as well as something interesting to say about the human body and the human spirit.
I did not see the Charles Ray piece as a vain attempt to copy--still less to equal--nature, but rather as an homage to natural beauty and a confession of the futility of trying to match nature in art. Why else would the process of the craftsmanship be made so evident as to draw attention to itself? No, it was clear that the piece acknowledged itself as an art object, not a natural one, and as such it's still no less an awesome presence, compelling in its size as well as in the detail of its surfaces. Unlike yourself, Carly, I believe that the Zen mind would be as much attracted to this beautifully-crafted artifact as to those near-immaculate temples and gardens we associate with the Zen culture--down to the smallest utilitarian object. I see it as an act of love and veneration and not, as you seem to do, as a cynical exploitation of the art market. So here we differ.
As for abstraction--and your dismissal, sight unseen, of the work of Helen Lundeberg--well, there are authorities I find more persuasive than the ever-pompous Salvador Dali, himself an artist who betrayed the insights and achievements of his early years and devoted much of his life to the pathetic celebration of the sacred cow of his supposed "genius"! To dismiss all abstraction as "about nothing" is to say exactly nothing. In this, Dali descends to the absurdity of the "my child could do it" school of criticism.
As I say, Carly, consider me baited by your comment! Art, for me, is in part about opening up the mind to possibilities undreamed-of, about revealing aspects of humanity about which I need to be reminded, about creating grounds for reflection on the human condition. Figuration is one way of achieving that, to be sure. It's not the only way. A Zen garden can do it for me too.