Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Is it art?

For another in the “Is it art?” series, we turn to a bit of performance art in Greenwich Village:

Ms. Hanford is part of the gallery’s latest exhibit by Brian Reed. She stands fully naked under a suspended web made of various objects including shark eggs and teeth, beads and clay pipes. Her nakedness is essential, Mr. Reed explained, “so she can be fully at the center of that connectivity” of energy.

Some may call it art, others something less flattering.

We actually have two questions here: whether it’s art, and whether its being art should excuse it. (Well, and there’s a third question, about whether we should lighten up and not be so uptight about nudity, but it’s not that question that I’m addressing here.)

To the second question, we have this:

“Simply walking around naked in and of itself is not protected conduct under the First Amendment,” Mr. Kuby said. “But lying down in the street naked with other people in order to express the duality of nature versus man, or to illustrate some post-apocalyptic vision, is artistic and does communicate a message.”


I’m very skeptical of that statement. Indeed, I can easily wangle an artistic excuse for “simply walking around naked”, in and of itself... or for pretty much anything else I might like to do. Why can’t one person who’s simply walking around naked be expressing the duality of nature versus man, or illustrating some post-apocalyptic vision?

If I say it’s art, does that make it art, at least at the level that it becomes protected by law?

And where do we draw the line between what we’ll protect and what we won’t? If those nude people whom Mr Tunick was allowed to photograph (read the article) had been, say, actively having sex, chasing people down the streets, or smoking marijuana, instead of just milling about amongst themselves, would the Supreme Court still have allowed it? Couldn’t all of those scenarios be justified as expressing some duality or other, in an artistic sense?

So, what do y’all think?:

  1. Is it art?
  2. Assuming it is (whether or not you personally agree), should it be protected?
  3. What are the limits?


Brent said...

Barry - RE "I can easily wangle an artistic excuse for 'simply walking around naked', in and of itself" ... even if you can do so, please do us all a favor and do not try it :-)

Barry Leiba said...

Indeed; you have my word.

Thomas J. Brown said...

In college I had a friend who was a performance artist. He had one "character" that he would sometimes "play" who was supposed to be a PhD of some sort.

The doctor would argue against public displays of art (literally all art, including landscaping and architecture) on the basis that everyone has a different opinion of what is and isn't art, and what is and isn't good. Because not everyone can agree that something is "good art," you might offend someone with your public display of art (he cites some examples of this actually happening), and therefore all art should be banned from public view.

Perhaps un-ironically, this character had a Russian accent, and there was a heavy implication that he was from Soviet Russia.

The point he was trying to make was that people need to think about what is and isn't art, and what art is and isn't good. I wish I could remember the whole piece, but it was fascinating and definitely got you thinking.

HRH said...

As a daily reader of this blog, I have never laughed so hard as reading this piece. I guess, if I happen to observe a group of people, who are engaged in “expressing the duality of nature versus man, or illustrating some post-apocalyptic vision?” it would depend on, what I see, if it is appealing, then I consider it, a form of art, and it should be protected. The limits? Hmmmm…, I’d assume, it will be subjective to one’s interpretation of art. If these “illustrators of post-apocalyptic vision” were portraying some type of sexual intercourse, I would say, they have crossed the line! but that’s only my opinion:-)