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10.04.2009

Sound What?

Yesterday I went with my sister to view an exhibit of sound sculptures in the art district of downtown Long Beach. If you read the phrase 'sound sculpture' and cock your head in confusion and misunderstanding, you've found the right response. Neither art nor reason had much to do with the display of noise along Broadway and Linden. I was reminded of the chapter in The Phantom Tollbooth entitled Dischord and Dynne. Dischord thinks he has a rather good business going selling bottles of cacophony. From what I could tell of the 'artists' downtown yesterday, he would have done good business indeed had he set up shop on the corner there, opening his doors and calling it art.

In their defense, I'm sure many of them had reasons for their displays. But there's a difference between a display of intentional racket and Art. Now you will ask me what art is. You will expect me to offer a thorough and concise definition. Well, I can't do it. I can only offer that small assertion, as the judge said of pornography, that I may not be able to define it to the satisfaction of a court of law, but I certainly know it when I see it.

In this case, I suppose, when I hear it. Either way, I know what it is not. I felt rather ashamed of myself, strolling those streets. I cannot describe to you how pretentious I felt, casting judgment on the pretension of those artists. I couldn't help thinking of the half hour I spent with Chaeli in the lower rooms of the Vatican museum, staring at the crucifix by Cantatore, realizing that it is possible for contemporary art to be good. More than good - brilliant. Restorative. It is possible for art to change you, to make you more whole, to sanctify. If the sound sculptures of yesterday were actually works of art - which I do not take as a given - they were certainly not the sort of art that makes you more human.

The best part of the evening was when we discovered a small garden hidden away between the tall buildings and the speakers pulsing static at passersby. It was, incidentally, rather quiet in the garden - apart from the voices of people. There was basil, and tomatoes on the ground, and a quickly rotting pumpkin. Candles were scattered throughout, and there was even a small picnic table for the knowing romantics. It was hidden, green, and full of life. We were better people in there, I think. There is, perhaps, hope for the world - if not for art.


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