I promise this will be the last time I write about The Mending Project. Faithful readers will recall that I've been dithering since Day 1 about whether it was worthwhile, not to mention about whether it was art. I mentioned the other day that the concept of art being the making of objects is a definition way too restrictive for the postmodernists, and that includes a lot of museum directors and curators.
That's why you'll see museums all over the place, not just here, trying to become places for encounters. While I was on duty mending, I observed a poetry slam as well as three different "family fun" days on which special activities were offered. Our museum has converted a bunch of prime real estate into a "maker space" where kids can make stuff. (Oh wait, making stuff is so nonpostmodern.... I guess it's OK for kids, if not for artists.)
The curators of our show say they were thrilled at all the conversations between menders and visitors, and think they might want to do something similar in the future.
That's all fine, and I guess any society benefits when strangers are able to have pleasant conversations with one another. But is this supposed to happen in a museum as opposed to a church, library or community center? A big part of me thinks that facilitation of conversation is too trivial, too universal, to undifferentiated, too generic to warrant rewriting the mission of a museum. There should be some qualitative difference between being a volunteer at a museum and being a volunteer at a nursing home, for instance.
I enjoy and take pride in the various occasions where I can spend some pleasant time with a stranger, especially if the conversation can go beyond the most superficial level. But I don't call it art. I am a maker, always have been, always will be as long as I can hold a needle or a paintbrush or a scissors or a glue gun. When I can't make things I don't think I qualify as an artist.
It's oh so trendy for the hipsters and the critics and the curators to call it art when "artists" hang out with other people or invite some people over for dinner or set out paper for people to write letters on or tell the museum guards to shout out headlines from the newspaper. I'm usually pretty open to offbeat and weird things being defined as art, but my tolerance stops before this point.
So my bottom line on The Mending Project is that first, the installation -- the beautiful walls of thread and the (small) piles of mended garments -- is probably art. It belongs in a museum; it was nice to look at. Maybe not the strongest work you'll ever see in a museum, but I've seen worse.
Second, when the menders stitched onto garments, either the ones that got piled on the table or the ones that were worn out the door, it might or might not be art. Even though I would not define it as art when I mend my son's shorts, I guess I'll give our production a grudging pass, because it was done while sitting in the real-art installation.
Third, having nice conversations with people is not art, even if it's done while sitting in the real-art installation.
By these definitions, of the 30 hours I spent on duty in the museum, I was probably making art for less than 10, and most of them were spent on things that I had brought in myself, unrelated to mending. The project did prompt me to do a lot of serious thinking and questioning about what is art and what I think is valid for me do do as an artist. But on balance I think the project stacks up as a waste of my time, not to mention a wasted opportunity for the museum in general.
That's my story and I'm sticking to it. What do you think? Was I nuts to spend so much of my summer on this project?