What is art? I asked the kids on the way to the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art (BMoCA). Eliot was pretty quiet about it, but from either side came her brothers' responses. Otto went after the sarcasm. "It's what you look at on the wall!" He was quick with his response. Trying to dismiss me, he was. Or draw my ire. Just a bit of vexation; pull me into a battle of words that would turn into imaginary lasers and shields. It's my fault. I talk trash to him all of the time because I know it will take me where I'm most comfortable: at approximately seven years old and shooting fake lasers. My shields are awesome, btw.
Quin leaned into my rear view and said art might be things you make so other people will look at them. His statement started heavy and then floated away on the intonation of a question. The way we do when answering a question about art.
As far as I know they're both right. Maybe Eliot nailed it with the silence. But who really knows what will move you until you're moved? Until you're fresh on the other side of something you never expected. Of course there are things that you know will move you.
--I'd like to pause here to say that this part might become annoying--
I like playing football. It feels amazing. A throw, a catch, and usually a much faster person tackling me, but I lie on the ground mesmerized by all that had to go right to make that happen. Somewhere someone had to be bored enough with round balls to make an egg one, and somehow an infinite number of scenarios were weeded out until a billion years of spatial relations had me reach out for that ball. A butterfly fart's difference and who knows for what my arms or paws or tentacles would be outstretched.
So, anyway, here's my thought: take that quick appreciation of actually catching the ball for once, and have that happen to you when you least expect it. A few brushstrokes or some bended steel, and you're holy shitting at the experience of the connection. The emotional touchdown.
That's why I've never been an art sceptic. Art makes people talk--that goddamned blue horse, for example. Growing up I was in the middle of nowhere but surrounded by art. Modest, crafty attempts to turn a little something into even more. Blank paper folded and water colored into a Christmas card. Birthday greetings dotted into folk art with a few markers and some quiet time at the table. That's the basic stuff. It's the little bit of expression done mostly out of practicality. Who wants to buy a greeting card anyways? The satisfaction of getting something done on the cheap.
--I think we're probably good with my prying and positing--
That's where I was at with the kids speculating on art. I was meeting BMoCA for work and the kids, availed to me by spring break, were going to get A) a day with dad and B) have their horizons broadened C) for free.
Free stuff for kids. For a parent that's a masterpiece.
I'd asked the kids about art because I wanted to broach the subject about A) What they see might not make sense B) they needed to be polite no matter what it was.
Luckily, one of the first pieces that greeted them was a human skull. It was in a fish tank and had coral reef growing off of it. The boys were enamored. I'm pretty sure they want me to obtain a human head now. Human remains, according to Nicole, the marketing director for the museum, are hard to come by unless you know the right people in Europe. But one day, boys, you can have my enlarged cranium bone for whatever piece you choose to tie the room together. If you don't go with the aquarium, my second choice would be dining room centerpiece. Or garden. Hide a key in it.
The point of the skull in the aquarium? There was some commentary about how humans are killing coral reefs but coral reefs can eat us. I like that. I just read that, if they wanted to, spiders could eat all of humanity in a year. We need these reminders of our fragility. These perspective-inducing trips down reality lane. Instead of burials we may consider human remnants to keep rising seas at bay. I guess that may happen anyway, but it makes so much more sense to protect our coasts with bones instead of having our corpses consuming up more than they need. Jesus, think of that. Even after we're dead we're taking up space. A water buffalo, for example, lies down and feeds a dozen vultures and a pack of wolves. Humans cordon off a chunk of land and hide in a box. (Christ, the art is working. I'm Philip K. Dicking into darkness.)
And then we shuffled around, taking pictures and seeing into the eyes of artists with their molds and paintings and protrusions spread out before us. The artist reaching out of the wall with paint-sticky hands wanting to leave a mark. Or many marks. "Hey, mofo! Look at this pain/inspiration/inheritance!" They shout like beverage vendors pacing the halls, plying you with something to enhance the same old game. Or maybe just a stimulant or depressant.
We enjoyed the space; you could feel what could be in place of whatever wasn't there--like, you know, the big empty offers a lot of opportunity to create. The kids answered. They filtered in and were drawn to the installment. But where they weren't directed they found their own distraction. A particularly large vestibule found them swinging from a railing. Christ, I thought, cut that out--like, yeah, stop doing it, but also with a big pair of scissors cut it out of this early spring day and put it on display. "Space Destroyed. Time Surrendered."
The whole time I had to reel in the daddy commentary about how the kids could be artists if they work at it. Shut up, old man. You could be something if you work at it, too, and it's the worst kind of person to shellac that over the raw experience of being there.