Martini: shaken not stirred

 the biggest art heist in history  

Perhaps it isn't surprising that there are fewer and fewer movies about art heists. Watching Catherine Zeta-Jones' lame performance in Entrapment, I was reminiscing about the days when art heist motion pictures like the Thomas Crown Affair appeared every year or so and were part of many television shows.

Now, I don't by any means advocate such activities. But I've noticed an interesting trend that relates closely to changes in our culture. In my opinion, the primary reason why art theft has left the public consciousness is the state of art itself. When I grew up in the 1960's and 70's art was still appreciated. My mom spent hours showing me the style differences between a Renoir and a Rembrandt, a work of Mozart and one of Mendelssohn. I learned the life stories behind great creative minds like Leonardo Da Vinci and Vincent Van Gogh. And I don't believe my life was an isolated case. I recall conversations at high school parties where styles of the great artists were discussed in heated debates.

Today, most people wouldn't know those names if they fell on the headstones engraved with them. We have raised a generation devoid of any true appreciation of the arts. One of the most troubling examples has been the theft of art from the great art galleries.

I don't mean that art has been physically stolen from the galleries. I mean that art has been stolen from the people by the galleries.

Recently the venerated Tate Gallery in London England, long considered among the world's greatest galleries, opened a new art exhibit. This consisted of an unmade bed. Apparently it is the bed of one Tracy Emins, a 27-year old woman who suffered a week-long state of depression during which she refused to get out of bed. The entire bed, littered with menstrually stained panties, tampons, and bits of food, is displayed as a work of art.

Art represents creative expression. It reflects a process in which a mental effort is made to convey an inner thought in a creative way. Art doesn't need an audience, of course. But it does represent the idea that something inside had to get out, had to be expressed creatively. Thought--not necessarily planning--and some kind of skill had to be involved, even if it just means throwing a bucket of paint onto a canvas.

Art did not come from a vacuum. Only human beings are capable of understanding and enjoying it. There's a good reason for this. Our Creator built into us a shadow of His creative ability. Along with the ability to be creative, He gave us the capability to appreciate creative expression.

The dictionary definition of "art" includes the concept that a conscious effort was made to express oneself in a unique way. A filthy bed does not fit this definition, no matter how you try to justify it. An unmade bed like that of Ms. Emins may be the consequence of mental turmoil, but no conscious mental effort was involved to express this turmoil through a creative process. Ms. Emins just stayed in bed. So do millions of other people, though perhaps not for a week at a time. To recognize afterwards (and I doubt she recognized this at all) that showing off the consequence of your behavior may interest people does not make it art! If that were the case then every activity performed by every human being should also be considered art. Indeed, if this were the new definition of art then the more "interesting" the activity the more "artistic" it becomes. And where does that road lead? Following this line of reasoning, death and murder would be the most artistic activities of all!

This distorted view of art may well be where today's art gallery curators are heading, but it strips art of any true definition and all creative value. It's time we returned what was stolen. It's time that young people once again learned what art really is and were encouraged to express it themselves. I'll know we've arrived when we see a growing number of art heist motion pictures.


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