If you’re looking at a piece of art and feel compelled to say, “I could do that,” or “my kid could do that,” the first thing you should do is assess if you really could do that… And if you still think you can do it, give it a try. It could be a really productive exercise to see how something is made.
What you’re really saying when you say, “I could do that,” and what I’d encourage you to say next time, is: “This doesn’t display a remarkable amount of technical skill and that’s what I really look for in art.”
It’s perfectly fine to have a preference for art that displays manual talents unavailable to most, but there’s a history of artists beginning in the early 20th century who took on new approaches to material, purposefully avoiding showing off technical skill, and for lots of good reasons – to upset the dominant art trends of the time, to question the value of unique objects, to undermine the commercial system of art by creating work that is unlikely to be trophies for the rich, or to reconsider the separation between art and life.
Next time you’re compelled to say, “I could do that,” stop yourself and ask, “why did they do that? What are the circumstances that led to me not doing that and them being so driven to make the thing that they not only thought of the idea but then completed it and found an audience for it? What are the social, political and economic circumstances surrounding them doing this thing?”
Of course, whether artists actually succeed in defying trends, undermining the market or devaluing the specific object is a whole other can of worms.
The video is still spot on though. She uses Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ “Untitled (Perfect Lovers)” to make an argument for work that indeed encourages the audience to participate or make work in kind. The ready-made nature of the objects (clocks in this case) the artist chooses is what makes the work capable of surviving beyond the artist’s lifetime without material degradation. The simplicity of the work belies the emotional impulse behind making the work during the AIDS crisis as a gay man.
I wish modern art museums would show this video in their lobbies!