Ed Ruscha, 1991
The past week was the week of mediocre art. First there was American Idiot, the worst thing I have ever seen performed on a stage. Then there was Salmon Fishing in Yemen, in which Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt wear khakis and look at a desert and laugh about farmed salmon.
You'd have to lack a brain to not get the symbolism. Flag = patriotism = Government = bad. Suit = the Man = corporate domination. Robes and untranslated Arabic and foreign-sounding music = mysticism or the bad guy, depending on the scene. As for the blonde I-Dream-of-Jeannie lookalike flying in on wires and dancing over hospital beds, I have no clue.
Blunt symbolism was all these works had to offer. But as frustrated as I felt, I know I would be dreaming to say this isn't common. We the audience are partly to blame. We permit, invite, symbols to replace reality. We crave symmetry. I thought Picasso broke that mirror, but maybe we have forgotten. All that time between us and him have allowed us to convert his works into symbols themselves, symbols of money, celebrity, and significance.
It doesn't end with art. We're constantly surrounded by pressure to turn off our critical sense. A Facebook like is a like is a like, and my like of Art is no different than your like of Art. Recency and popularity have somehow been transformed from contextual elements to concrete values. We question little and complicate never, because we tend to believe what we see and because we are inundated with information.
I recall living in San Francisco and feeling an acute pressure to accept that more information was benign, even morally good. But what about silence? Is it nothing more than negative space? I get it, it's addictive. But consider this: The more time you spend consuming, the less time you spend reflecting. The less you reflect, the less able you become to contribute something original. Without something original, you're left to blindly follow other people's leads, which may be of little value or even harmful. Sontag and Debord were onto something. But leave them to the academics, because representation is a loaded word and because writers and thinkers belong to that bad word: humanities. Kids are better off learning math.
A lot can happen in a quiet moment. Maybe you can't tweet, text, or blog about it, but silence should be something we embrace, not fear. Do we really need to read another copycat food blog? Do we need to like or comment on everything we see? What do we mean when we say war is bad? And can someone tell me how many more hipster phrases I need to see in League Gothic?
I don't exclude myself in all this, me with my generic food photographs and recipes. But while it's difficult to reconcile this post with food, I try not to let my fear of incoherence or mediocrity keep me from creating. It's my personal way of escaping passive consumption. It's up to you to decide whether the end result is any better than a fish farm in Yemen.