Alexander McQueen has an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY right now. I went there on the Tuesday after July 4th when it seemed like most of the city had to go back to work. No lines and a less crazy crowd then usual meant getting up-close time with one of the world’s most accomplished craftsman. I read somewhere that McQueen is ‘an artist who’s medium happens to be fashion’ but what surprised me most about seeing his work in person was not just the craftsmanship but how much of McQueen’s person you could see in his pieces. Macabre, romantic, historic, dreamy and even sadistic at times – being surrounded by his work feels like meeting a stranger who, to your fascinated discomfort, spills his rawest thoughts at your first handshake. It was awesome, uncomfortable, beautiful, humbling, sad, inspiring. Here was a man who breathed his life into his work, talked through it and now lives on through the things he made.
After leaving the exhibit, I didn’t really feel like going back out into the real world right away so I wandered around the rest of the museum. I walked through the American Wing, the Roman sculpture atrium, a collection of Papua New Guinea tribal art and so on. Plowing through 3000+ years of history in 30 mins, it struck me that everything here was made by someone at some point in time with the purpose of saying something. Whether it’s made for a god or gods, as a utility, or for pure unadulterated prettiness, each object was thought of by someone and then made by someone. Carving, painting, sewing, welding takes time. How many iterations of each did those someones go through before landing at the piece now sitting on a pillar in a museum in 2011? Was that someone happy with the result or were they under a tight deadline? Was there a fickle chief, King, patron? Did patrons test in focus groups back then – show it around the forum for another opinion? Did that someone throw their hands in the air after five rounds of opinions from loudmouths and just ‘gave them what they asked for’ in spite of themselves? The creative process certainly hasn’t changed. I bet those someones 3000 years ago saw every flaw when they revealed their ‘finished’ work, though no one else did. I bet each one thought they could improve something if only they had more time. We can’t hear those thoughts any more but like McQueen’s, here were their works, still standing long after the creators have passed. The messages they were meant to communicate still communicates – some of those concepts more foreign, some as relevant as any contemporary piece, some artist’s presence more prominent, some more quiet.
At the Temple of Dendur, the beautiful Egyptian courtyard that’s now a trademark of the Met, I took out my iPhone and Instagram-ed a picture of the reflection pond. That picture was uploaded to my Facebook, joining a stream of newsfeed that is refreshed every second. At the moment I took it, something made me want to capture that little place in time, though of course subconsciously. But will I look at this picture again a week later? A year from now? Will any one of my however many social network friends look at it again once it runs below the folds of their browsers? With all of the apps and sites that instantly throws a quick ‘artsy’ filter over a picture or movie along with a witty one-line description, we collectively churn out things and commentary without thinking more than a second about it. Off into the digital ether.
Photography, for example, lives mostly in digital form now. Like everyone else with a phone camera and a digital camera, all of my photos sit in folders on my laptop. I can’t remember the last time I printed out a picture. Yet walking through a flea market, there are boxes and boxes of old photographs of people and cars and horses and moments in time, yellowing but tangible. Will an Instagram photo be found by someone random, years later, in some virtual version of a flea market?
Creativity has been democratized by technology and anyone with an app and a blog has a megaphone and can stretch their creative lungs. Good. It makes the world more interesting and shines a light on different points of view. Such a large forum of eyeballs has made us a culture of attention-addicts loving the instant and constant approvals – but the impermanence of those likes, comments, follows means we put more things out that quickly gives us another hit of it. But of all the things we tweet/post/blog out, what will last? What has substance? What will someone 3000 years from now remember or see of our millions and millions of fleeting, instant thoughts and ‘art’. Will any of those thoughts still communicate?
Do they need to?