Hope this is a breath of fresh air in the midst of all the craziness going on.
Welcome back to Your Lazy Sunday. A newsletter to help you
I’m obsessed with questions.
About a year after I graduated I compiled a list of 11 favorite questions to ask myself. If you’re the type of neurotic who does an annual, quarterly, or personal performance reviews, these questions might be a good inspiration.
Here’s a small sample…
3 Important Questions You Can Ask Yourself
#4 — What 20% of my activities lead to 80% of the meaning and/or happiness in my life?
#8 — How can I do what I am doing, lazier, easier, and in less time?
#9 —“What might you do to accomplish your 10-year goals in the next 6 months, if you had a gun against your head?” — Peter Thiel
You can find the whole list of 11 Questions here: 11 Important Questions You Need to Ask Yourself
Let me ask you a question…
Is this Art?
You might say, uhh… that’s a urinal on its side.
You would be right. But it’s also one of the most famous artworks of the 20th century. It’s called ‘Fountain.’
‘Fountain’ was one of those art pieces that confused me until recently. My brother and I love art history, but we don’t really get postmodernist or conceptual art. It’s usually edgy to the point of stupidity. It gives art a bad name. It seems to spawn fake artists that don’t seem to have an ounce of talent.
Even though I’m critical of what followed… After learning about ‘Fountain’, I can’t help but admire Duchamp’s intentions.
Duchamp created ‘Fountain’ and then anonymously submitted it to the Society of Independent Artists, a society he helped found. The Society was founded to accept and display any art piece that was submitted to them.
After seeing the piece, the board members of the society went against their founding principles. They roundly decided that “it is by no definition, a work of art.”
In a now-famous piece, an art journal called The Blind Man denounced the decision of the Society. They said,
“Whether Mr Mutt with his own hands made the fountain or not has no importance. He CHOSE it. He took an ordinary article of life, placed it so that its useful significance disappeared under the new title and point of view—created a new thought for that object.”
What Duchamp was trying to ask with his subversive urinal was a fundamental question.
What is art?
In the olden days, an artist was defined by what he/she made. In the olden days, you were an artist if you were a painter, a writer, etc. An artist actively created stuff.
Duchamp was arguing that the old definition of an artist was a poor one. He argued that creating stuff doesn’t make you an artist. What made you an artist was a unique point of view.
His view was significant and art world-changing. Mostly, in a bad way.
Ironically, what happened was many so-called artists copied Duchamp. They created subversive art for the sake of being subversive. They saw a way to make money in a status signaling art world.
But that’s not art. There’s no point of view.
There are two types of museum-goers. The first goes to a museum because society told them that’s what they must do. They go see a Picasso to pretentiously hand wave about why a Picasso is important. They are the Art is Important type.
The second goes to a museum to roundly denounce the art. What the hell is this, they say? They feel good rebelling against something they don’t understand. Because if they think it’s bullshit everybody else must too, right? This is the All Art is Stupid Type.
Both have good points.
But neither sees the full picture. They see art as a noun. But art is a verb. Genuine art lovers are the third kind.
They realize art is play. A relationship. That you are creating the experience just as much as the artist is. They realize Art is what happens in the space between the work and the person.
You can see ‘Fountain’ as an important artwork. You can see it as a sign that all art is bullshit. Or you can see it a third way.
You can see it as something that makes you see the ordinary in an un-ordinary way. It makes you question what art is.
In today’s world, I think that’s what an artist is. It’s a person who frames the cliche in an un-cliche way.
Most of our lives with our eyes closed. We must. Life is busy.
We have the same habits and routines every day. We don’t actually experience most of our days. We don’t see the grass, hear the words we speak, or feel the coffee cups we pick up.
Everything is automatic, habitual, and familiar.
Russian literary scholar Viktor Shklovsky wrote about this in a seminal essay. He said,
Habitualization devours work clothes, furniture, one’s wife, and the fear of war… And art exists that one may recover the sensation of life; it exists to make one feel things, to make the stone stony.
Some of my favorite pieces of art don’t ask me to look at anything new. Rather, they show me the ordinary in an unordinary way. I see something that has become habitual, something I’ve forgotten to see. And I’m taught to see again.
ala this playful photo from Japanese photographer Shin Noguchi
According to Shkovsky, the role of art was to make the familiar, unfamiliar.
I find this definition incredibly inspiring. That means we can all be artists. We can all inject more aliveness in our lives. All we have to do is look at things like a child does.
We need art to be alive. To see what we can’t see in day-to-day life. If an artist can show you something with a unique point of view, to make the familiar unfamiliar then it’s art.
Even if that “something” is a urinal on its side.
I wanted to share a short beautiful prose poem from one of my favorite authors, Brian Doyle. It’s ending is so beautiful that I haven’t been able to forget it.
Here’s the intro.
“Consider the hummingbird for a long moment. A hummingbird’s heart beats ten times a second. A hummingbird’s heart is the size of a pencil eraser. A hummingbird’s heart is a lot of the hummingbird. Joyas voladoras, flying jewels, the first white explorers in the Americas called them, and the white men had never seen such creatures, for hummingbirds came into the world only in the Americas, nowhere else in the universe, more than three hundred species of them whirring and zooming and nectaring in hummer time zones nine times removed from ours, their hearts hammering faster than we could clearly hear if we pressed our elephantine ears to their infinitesimal chests.”
I don’t want to spoil the end, so click here to read the rest of it (it’s super short): Joyas Volardores
To end, I want to introduce you to my brother’s and my favorite thing ever. Movies where a character in the movie says the movie title.
Here’s a hilarious video that imagines what it would be like if certain movies ended when a character said the title.
I hope you’ve been enjoying Your Wonderful Lazy Sunday
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