Thought for the Day: Garbage

February 24, 2005
Lately, I’ve been subjecting myself to a lot of different kinds of music to see what else is out there besides the usual rock radio crap and the same bouncy dance anthems. What I’ve been discovering is some pretty interesting work, some addicting stuff, some bizarre but good stuff, and then stuff that should be classified as garbage. But I have a hard time of labeling something garbage because someone did make an effort in creating that piece of "music."

It takes a lot of time to create something, regardless of how we view it. Does our opinion matter when viewing something, or should we leave it up to the artist to decide what is good and what is bad? Would our opinion matter more when the artwork is thrust into our faces (graffiti, street musicians, etc.) rather than art that we had to search out (mp3s, blogs, art in a museum) ? Since the artist is putting it in front of us, I would think he/she’s daring us to judge it. They’re making us confront it and face our fears, question ourselves, look at what they’re providing and find something of value for us. At that point, we can say something is garbage or very good.

But is by calling something garbage a way of us personally avoiding the real answer? Do we pass it off as crap because we’re afraid of going to that place where the artist is asking us to go? Is that the root of the problem with public nudity (in art or in general), because so many people classify nudity as taboo or should only be viewed privately in a bedroom? If it is the problem, is it impossible to avoid this confrontation from within? Will humans ever open themselves up to go places where they normally wouldn’t go?

Is art the garbage of life – the taking something bold and making the viewer look at themselves deeply and come to some conclusion of who they are, where they are, who they will become, who someone they know is or will be, etc?

If art is the crap of the artworld, how do we explain the popularity of some artistic styles and pieces (ie Mona Lisa, Water Lilies, statue of David)? Is that art just good design or beautiful in nature but not real art? Is it popular because it’s safe, or because it’s perceived to be underground and thus "cool"?

With apologies to David Garneau (Visual Arts Dept Head, University of Regina), I’m going to steal an idea he presented in his classes. He developed the model below based on a single question: What does it mean to be priviledged in our world? (Western, as opposed to Middle Eastern, Asian, etc). The classes came up with one list and he put down the opposite side, so it read like this:

  • White                    Other (black, Asian, etc)
  • Wealthy                 Poor
  • Judeo-Christian        Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist
  • Urban                    Rural
  • Educated               Un-educated

etc.

His premise was that anything that was popular in our culture came from the "other" side. Blues, jazz, rap/hip-hop, trance, the hippy culture, Asian martial arts films, and so on. The list is honestly endless, and almost everything passes through this filter. Yes, you have the white rappers like Eminem doing well- but he was pretending to be other: poor, trailer-trash, uneducated, etc. He’s not an exception; he’s playing by the rules of pop.

I would say that it is indeed true that most cool art/media comes from the other side, while the safe and good art comes from the left side (white). Society says that whites are cleaner than darks, so by extension so must our art – unless we’re trying to play to the other side, like Eminem. I’m sure that’s a reason why most people learning to paint turn towards the nature or still life pictures and not the abstract. They’re not ready to question their artistic integrity and themselves, so paint a safe picture to boost their esteem and so forth.

But is this binary in art so black and white? Are you one or the other, or is it linear and you lie somewhere between good and garbage, favouring one side or the other? I think it does fluctuates, but it changes for the self, not a society as a whole. So, the reader may find my writings sliding towards the side of being "crap" but a society will simplify things and call me crap or good. Society needs to be simple so people don’t get lost by the rules (we all think it is complex, but deeper analysis would show us a simple truth to it all). That is another topic for discussion later, though.

For now, the point is made: garbage exists on a societal level, but ultimately it is up to an individual to decide how crappy that garbage really is.

As a side thought, imagine if there was a catalogue of websites that are crap that people should avoid (like how people grade movies, books, music). The punchline would be something along the lines of "Who knew humans could create so much crap."

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