Thursday, June 28, 2012

Is it art?

Oh here I go again. 
Mosaic artists have long been dogged by the perception among movers and shakers in “The Art World” that what we do is craft or, at best, decorative art. This opinion is often held by people with little or no knowledge of what has been happening on the mosaic art scene in recent years, although that is not to say that the only meaningful work has been done recently.  That’s ok. It’s our job to educate people about what we’re doing and why.  Artists who can’t handle the attitudes of the wider art community will often play with mosaics awhile and then move on. Those who are left, for the most part, don’t give a shit about what the wider art community thinks.
The Mosaic Art Now blog featured Marcelo De Melo today, with this introduction:
For those who would relegate contemporary mosaics to the “decorative arts” section of the library, museum or art appreciation course, we would submit the work of Marcelo de Melo.  There is nothing pretty or decorative about it.  On the contrary.  It is often crude, awkward and somewhat difficult to look at.  It is also edgy, thought provoking and very clear in its intent.  Marcelo de Melo has a voice and he’s not afraid to use it. 
Corpo MusivoMarcelo De Melo
copyright 2004
Before I go any further, let me state emphatically that I am not hatin’ on MAN.  I love that blog and admire Nancie for the amazingly in-depth research that goes into it.
However -
Art is, at its core, a means of communication.  I think few people would dispute that.  Must it communicate unpleasantness to move beyond the decorative? (In fairness, I don’t think that’s what Nancie is trying to say.) How do you suppose Michaelangelo would feel about that? Or Georgia O’Keefe? Or Chihuly?
But as I read the words of Marcelo De Melo this morning, and his lengthy explanations for each piece, I again returned to my train of thought from a previous post:
…artworks with lengthy explanations always wear me out.  And I have a brick wall in my head between language and images.  I want them both to stand alone. If they can’t, they aren’t quality. They can enrich each other in wonderful ways, but if one needs the other, it isn’t quality.
So, what can you tell me about the artwork pictured above?  What was the artist trying to communicate?
I think it might be inappropriate for me to write down here what I thought.
Here is his own explanation:
Corpo Musivo (Mosaic Body) was created for the 2004 Prix Picassiette in Chartres, France, one of the art form’s most important events. For the Prix, I chose to question of the very historicity of mosaic art by exploring the relation between mosaics and religious iconography. This shapeless form is meant to shock, by desecrating techniques and materials precious to mosaic art. The smalti functions as a reference to the body of Christ and other religious figures widely portrayed in mosaics.
WHAAAT?!?!?  And then I read the list of materials he used –  pubic hair may fit with “descrating techniques and materials precious to mosaic art”, but I have no idea how it enhances the composition.
Now contrast that with this image:

Queens of the Night
Yulia Hanansen
copyright 2012

The image communicates a great deal to the viewer, the title enhances what is perceived from the image.  There is no need for a lengthy monologue for the viewer to appreciate the piece.
Though it took me a long time to get to it, my point is this: Art that communicates most clearly is art of a higher order.  I do still believe that technical skill is important, but it doesn’t matter if your intent is to point out man’s cruelty to man, or the holy gift of an amazing sunset.  If a viewer can look at your piece and know where your heart was when you made it, it is art.


  1. Hi, Lee Ann.
    Thanks for commenting on my work.
    Warm regards,
    Marcelo de Melo

  2. You're quite welcome, Marcelo. I'd love for you to offer a counterpoint, if you're so inclined.

  3. LeeAnn, I think Marcelo's work communicates a great deal even without his explanations . His explanations give us an insight into his thought processes and reasons for making the works and his choice of materials...Something we all do these days in our blogs, and which are of great value to our appreciation and understanding of art.
    - Kate Rattray



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