Containing Beauty: Kaleidoscope II

We once found ourselves (during our MFA stint) amongst a private, sizable modern art collection, which focused on art from what we so affectionately call the academic or conceptual art period. There were famous classics from the likes of Ansel Adams, Rodin, Warhol- you get the picture. However, there were also many obscure works. As we toured this half house, half museum, one piece in particular caught our attention. The piece consisted of two gold thumb tacks- something you find at any office store these days- which were carefully placed into the wall. We were told by the collector that this piece came with instructions that explained exactly where the gold thumb tacks should be placed on the wall and how far apart they should be spaced from each other. This… was the art.   

Immediately, our first notion was to look away from the piece and begin to ponder, to analyze, to scrutinize- we had grown accustomed to doing this in art theory and critique classes. What does it mean? Then, we chuckled quietly. It invoked a sort of jocularity. Our biggest conundrum concerning the piece was whether or not it was taking itself seriously. Was this supposed to be highly contemplative or were we simply supposed to see the senselessness in it all- how silly and academic art had become? Though this was a piece of "visual art,"  we found ourselves looking away, trading quick glances/smiles, and thinking… what complete bullshit! Here, the power of the voyeur was stripped- there was really nothing to gaze upon… no beauty to behold… just a vicious cycle of analysis and contemplation. Is this art? Or, is this art theory?

In the past few weeks, while continuing across the country, we have found ourselves in many conversations centered around the topic of beauty's place in art. Is it okay for art to be purely an outward expression of one's inner self- brought on only instinctually and enjoyed innately without explanation? Or… should art make you think? Should it make you retreat into thought- into your own head? Perhaps a little of both? 

While in Savannah, we spoke at great lengths with a SCAD alumni about the subject. He told us that he had instinctively followed the light because he found it entrancing and beautiful and wanted to know what it was. Then, we talked about 'The Painted Word' by Tom Wolfe- a book criticizing the highly academic and elite art world of the 70s. Although this book was written in the 70s, we both agreed that it was still totally relevant to contemporary circumstances. "Why can't you just enjoy art because it's beautiful?," he exclaimed. "Why are we trained to analyze it to death until it becomes literary rather than visual?" We discussed in depth the relationship between the gaze (voyeurism) and the beautiful object. The SCAD student was with a friend. The friend said the same- she too had come to look at our work from across the way-  she just wanted to stare. "We walked over here almost out of instinct," she explained.   

During our time in Cincinnati, we knew two things: we were going to light a sculpture we had once before worked with during our rehearsal phase AND we wanted to focus on the idea of the Kaleidoscope. 

Kaleidoscope is a greek word meaning 'beautiful. If you have ever held one up to your eyes, you understand their intrinsic beauty and mystery. They have the power to incapsulate you in an ever-changing picture with mesmerizing and continually evolving shape and color combinations. The inner workings are simple, but captivating- literally, it's a tube with mirrors and multiple colored jewels.

Since we had previously worked with this mirrored sculpture in Cincinnati, we knew of it's Kaleidoscopic tendencies. Once placed amongst the sculpture's mirrors, our lights became ephemeral jewels… this was indeed a massive Kaleidoscope- a work intrinsically beautiful, commanding the gaze.