In a Designing Women episode from 1991 entitled “This is Art?”, Julia Sugarbaker (Dixie Carter) becomes an accidental hot commodity in the art world after her clutch purse is mistakenly put onto a gallery’s display pedestal, then sold for an astronomically high price of $5000. As the episode depicts, the ladies goes to a show at a local gallery and proceed to comment on and debate the validity of the type of art showcased. Among the pieces: a non-operational pay telephone on the wall and piles of cloth on the floor. After another character attempts to make a call on said pay phone or suggests to the staff that they clean up the pile of junk on the floor, she is admonished and told that it was an exhibit.
I am a huge art lover, and my own taste runs from Ancient to Medieval and Renaissance. To Rococo, Post-Impressionists, Pop Art, and Surrealism. It’s simpler to discuss what type of art does not move me (Geometric abstracts comes to mind right away. The type of painting with a single colored dot on a canvas). While I myself cannot draw or paint, I have always appreciated art in its many forms, but like the characters on the show, I have certainly posed this question: where do we draw the line between true artistry and creativity and a simple fallacy?
Andy Warhol did a silk screen of a Campbell’s soup can. Jackson Pollack’s work is comprised mainly of paint splatters and handprints. Marcel Duchamp used a urinal as the base of a sculpture. While these pieces are world renowned, considered iconic, and worth quite a chunk of change, who is the deciding factor on what constitutes true art and what’s just a bunch of stuff thrown together to make a fast (yet lucrative) buck? Art critics? The patrons? Buyers? If I were just to throw some paint on a canvas devoid of any meaning or thought, and I became a success in that right, would I be able to respect those that praised me or would capitalism win out in the end?
Towards the end of the episode, Julia’s side gig goes full steam ahead when she brings still lifes she had painted in her youth out of hiding. When they are displayed in the same gallery, the pretentious and buffoonish couple that bought her purse (which was stated earlier as being purchased at JCPenney) are waiting and itching to shell out top dollar for her wares, which the gallery owner is all too eager to accept. Once Julia’s work is described as “motel motif” (as in the stereotypical paintings nailed to motel room walls) and “campy”, we can’t help but feel disheartened at the labeling of her endeavors.
What I got out of this episode is that art is absolutely subjective and objective, so our own perceptions and reactions translate to our tastes and what we consider pleasing to the senses. While all of us may not admire or feel overwhelmingly moved by the same works, those debates about paintings, books, operas, or plays is what opens the mind and motivates the creativity in all of us.