We’re in Marfa, Texas. Marfa is an art town. Ask anyone. Go do it. What did they say? “Isn’t that that art town?” Yes it is.
So what is an art town? And really, if we’re going to get heavy about it, what is art?
I actually do not want to discuss that question—not at all. Really my question is, am I a welcome guest at the art party?
Here’s a story. I have a friend, a friend who studied art, who earned an MFA degree in it from one of the really good art schools. We were having a conversation one morning. It happened to be the morning after I’d seen “Einstein at the Beach” revived at the LA Opera. I’m a fan of Philip Glass. I’m not pretentious about it or anything—I just enjoy listening to his music. I gave about a 10-minute rave about our experience seeing the opera—the beauty of the live performance, the repetition of movement, how absolutely glacial the pace was at times, how simultaneously enthralling it was—and I paused to get his reaction. He took two deep breaths. He thought seriously about how to respond then said, “It’s difficult to discuss art with someone who hasn’t received a formal training in it.”
I laughed because I didn’t know what else to do. For most of the time since then (probably four years now), I’ve been super pissed off. Pissed off that I had an authentic and enthusiastic response to a work of art and the response was that my response was not worthy? eligible? for a response, simply because I do not have an MFA.
So here’s my question, and the question for the visitor passing through the art town: who’s allowed to be here? How much can we enjoy it? Do we enjoy it the way that you, art scholar, do, or do we enjoy it in a lesser, less qualified way? Do I have feelings about this? You bet I do. But I want to ask this question in an earnest and neutral way: do you have to be qualified to appreciate art?
We saw art in the art town today. Specifically we visited Donald Judd’s home studio, aka ‘The Block.’ Donald Judd is the guy who moved to Marfa and began to turn it into an art town. We saw where he lived and worked, a place of reverence among art people. Are we art people? Anyway, we saw that space and then saw the space of the foundation he founded, Chinati.
There, we saw 100 aluminum boxes, all with the same length, width, and height, but each with a unique structure that captures the light and reflects it differently, capturing color through the open space, creating vacuums and voids and open light spaces. I was captivated. The two massive rooms housing the boxes were the two most beautiful rooms I’ve seen in my life.
So. I feel confident that I am allowed to enjoy these places, but under what capacity? What label? Am I a fortunate heathen, a Philistine with a smidge of taste who bumbled his way into true beauty? Am I a privileged white person who gets to indulge in aesthetics because of my class and race? Am I a true art aficionado who sees works like this because I’m so “in the know”? Am I actually an art person of unidentified and therefore hypocritical pretensions?
I don’t know. I really don’t. I just dig it. Maybe the labels are horseshit. Maybe I hope they are. I like the work, I think it’s beautiful, and I think that anyone who appreciates aesthetics should go see it too.