Wednesday, October 26, 2011

"Highest form of art"? I don't think so.

This is an addendum to my last post about Marni Kotak's performance art piece The Birth of Baby X. The artist successfully gave birth to a baby boy in the gallery this morning to an audience of maybe 15 people. I'm not sure why this is news. Most of us have known or will know people who are pregnant. A huge number of us women will some day be pregnant and experience birth. A huge number of men will have a partner who gives birth and be able to play a supporting role in the birth process. People can read about it, find books and videos that show all the details. Those who want to have a more intimate understanding of the process of birth can discover and attend gatherings of women who tell their "birth stories". This isn't exactly something shrouded in mystery anymore, as some would like to pretend. Which probably explains Kotak's small audience.

Really, what was the point here?
Rhetoric that attempts (and fails) to give higher meaning to this performance abounds. One spectator was quoted saying,
I feel like the entire audience accomplished this together with Marni, using the commonly created positive energy. 
Obviously the artist would have accomplished giving birth whether the audience was there or not, so I'm not sure what their supposed "positive energy" contributed.

The artist herself contributed more empty blather:
Kotak has said she hopes people will see that giving birth is what she calls "the highest form of art."
Forget Michelangelo's Sistene Chapel ceiling, the compositions of Mozart, the plays of Shakespeare. Doing something that only women can do, but which requires simply a fully functioning reproductive system and being sexual active is not just art, but the "highest form" of art. Huzzah for womanhood! Who knew surpassing Picasso could be so easy!

Forget the caves at Lascaux and the creative explosion, a time when modern humans evolved beyond all other species in a flurry of creative activity never seen before on earth. According to Marni Kotak, there is nothing that special about us humans. Apparently, something that just about every female of every sexually reproducing species on the planet, including roaches, rats, and worms can do is not just art, but the "highest form" of art.

No. Art is a response to our life experiences, not the experiences themselves, and not the mere documentation or witnessing of those experience. Art is creative. It transcends our experiences, gives them meaning.

As far as I can tell, all this performance was made up of was the artist documenting and engaging in aspects of her regular life on display for an audience. Maybe that would have been cutting edge stuff that pushed the boundaries of what is considered art many decades ago, but these days, who cares? What profound meaning comes out of this that didn't already exist without it?

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