Rooms of rainbows made of 60-miles of thread. Rock formations made of towers of index cards. Pools of ice cream sprinkles you can dive into. What do these all have in common? Selfies.
Yes, there are museums that are specifically curated by artists who’ve crafted experiential exhibits so people can take photos that are Instagram-ready. You may be rolling your eyes. Or you may be intrigued. But in an age of social comparison, continual screen time, and tech giants bidding for your attention through every artistic medium, can one say it is or isn’t art? Who is the expresser, the artist or the selfie-taker? Consider now that the world has caught on to these types of “made-for-Instagram” exhibits. Imagine walking under a curtain of rain and it stops wherever you stop. Or rooms of mirrors. Or cloud pools you can jump into. At 29Rooms in New York, the themed rooms tackle larger questions of body image, race and gender. The Museum of Ice Cream explores 15 color “experiences”, where visitors can walk through a confetti room or jump into a bright yellow ball pit. All the while, you can take pictures inside.
Are you creating art? Experiencing art? Where is the line drawn? What is the difference between a Chuck E. Cheese and the MoMa? Artists were tapped to explore questions, moods, space and color, yes. Yet overall, some questions still remain.
Do these exhibits allow me to reflect?
Do they allow me to think critically?
Can I see my world from another viewpoint?
Behind thick Plexiglas in the Indica Gallery of Swinging London, there sits a lone Granny Smith apple rotting away. This is, considered by many, a form of artistic expression. This is one of many forms of temporary art by Yoko Ono, former wife of John Lennon. Or take Spanish street artist Francisco de Pajaro’s “Art Is Trash”. He travels to major cities like London and Berlin and rearranges garbage found on the street into sculptures. Sometimes people throw the sculptures away. Other dedicated fans who follow the artist scramble to collect his works. Or think about the ArteNatura in Italy. In 1986, the Arte Sella Association commissioned more than 20 sculptures consisting of leaves, branches, rocks and other natural elements. Others like Andy Goldsworthy use ice sculptures, leaves, rivers and most importantly, time in order to explore the temperamental nature of our existence.
Michael Jackson never thought the album would become such a monster.
But Thriller, Jackson’s 1982 album, which has sold more than 66 million records since it hit the shelves, became the best selling musical album at the time. Who can’t resist trying to moonwalk when they hear Beat It or Billie Jean. It’s nearly impossible. Besides the innovative composing by legendary producer Quincy Jones, Thriller provoked a significant level of attention for African American artists and musicians who didn’t get the attention they deserved at the time. And it became a visual narrative that changed the music industry forever.
Jackson decided he wanted to combine his music with visuals in a way that would open the door for future artists to explore this level of expression in storytelling. He was influenced by the film “An American Werewolf” and wanted to make a short film about his childhood. Thriller represented the bestial side of becoming a man and the body transformation out of adolescence that he felt. This form of visual film meeting musical expression allowed for the exploration of the dark side of childhood that still holds significance in music video direction.
(And as an aside, a Thriller zombie dance flash mob made the Guinness Book of World Records with 13,597 participants in Mexico City, Mexico in 2009. Talk about art and expression influencing community!)
In the past decade, Compton-born artist Kendrick Lamar has become THE visual storyteller of black life. The music video for Alright became an anthem for anti-police brutality across America. Element weaves a rich tapestry of visual art and musical tension. And Lamar’s creative team deliberately explores the ubiquitous social fracturing of African American life, e.g. being denied access to wealth, housing inequality, depleted mental health resources, unbalanced educational opportunities, racism, and unending police brutality.
Lamar has become the vanguard for African American short-form storytelling. And his ache-filled musical expression influences other artists to rise up and survive by creating.
Childish Gambino is another of our generation’s more prolific hip hop artists. Donald Glover, who is a writer, actor, comedian and performs under the name Childish Gambino, has never hit the likes of Lamar as far as the singles go. However, Glover is an example of an artist that has earned the respect of his fans for his innovation and evolution as an artist. He’s lyrical and thoughtful in his social commentary, such as in Sweatpants. And he also knows when to call a project quits when it’s fully formed and expressed. Glover announced that he would retire the moniker Childish Gambino. With this, he inspires other creatives to look toward their next move. When you express in any form, there was always a reason that you were the one to do it. This allows us to question why were are expressing something, not only the what.
Banksy — the graffiti artist, political activist, and provocateur — still keeps his identity under wraps. He has graffiti bombed Paris, Barcelona and San Francisco, to name a few, all the while remaining anonymous. He had to, in fact, so that the police in Bristol and London wouldn’t arrest him for vandalizing public areas and buildings.
But what else makes him stand out besides his anonymity? His sculptures, paintings, and graffiti work are multi-faceted in their social and political themes. The subjects in his pieces primarily depict greed, boredom, poverty, and despair, and have themes of anti-government, anarchism, anti-capitalism and anti-fascism.
As a street artist, Banksy delivers socio-political commentary as a loud cry of expression in a modern age of commercial art and sterile infrastructure.
He’s not afraid to pull off pranks like shredding his own famous paintings after it went on auction for $1.4 million. If that doesn’t make a statement of expression, it’s hard to say what does. For the record, the piece was worth more after the shredding.
Banksy has influenced other graffiti artists to grow together in this modern form of expression. Some people argue that it lacks creativity due to it’s direct messaging. Yet, others see his artwork and its clarity of imagery as a simplified message for a modern society. Banksy’s art is successful not only in a public following, but he also is able to succinctly express his opinions and emotions to average citizens and hundreds of thousands of passersby every day. We don’t always have to find a complex philosophy nor an abstract meaning in art. Banksy reminds us to laugh and find joy in expression, even when conveying stark or bleak ideas.
Does a destroyed piece of art make it less than what it was?
Does art necessarily need to be difficult to understand?
Can this kind of expression be among other great artists of our time?
Below are a few links to art communities that may spark ideas for your own avenue of expression. For a more exhaustive list, check out our rundown of artist communities, websites and other musings.
- My Modern Met and Behance can offer you a community of graphic designers and artists.
- Colorado’s largest street art location and event, CRUSH, is a 30-block stretch of mural art district and an example of cultivating community through street art, creativity and conversation.
- For more of an introduction to the photographic community, visit 500px and Unsplash. And take a scroll through Your Shot Photographic Community from National Geographic for more of a photojournalistic angle.
- Architects have ideas that link concepts with form. They inspire us with angles of light and the confines of space. Exact measurements, specific materials and meticulous detail goes into their work. Many visual artists take in their surroundings to make the real world more abstract. Architects design their work from the abstract to the real.
- Meow Wolf in Santa Fe, NM offers guests an immersive art experience like no other. What began as a community of struggling artists became one of the most sought after museum experiences in the country. With the help of George R.R. Martin (yes, our favorite medieval Game of Thrones author) who invested $2.7 million in a vacant bowling alley, Meow Wolf became an expression of art, love and community.
The truth is, most artforms have a community of some kind, whether that means a small group meeting once a month in a suburb, or a global club that convenes annually for a convention. Once you’ve found a form of Expression, reach out! You’re likely to make friends and find opportunities to combine this cornerstone of meaning with others through social interaction.
What forms of expression might we have to choose from? Well…