What IS art… exactly?

Tilda In A Box

Tilda Swinton sleeping in a box (photo from BBC)

Academy Award winning actress Tilda Swinton‘s latest project is to simply sleep. But she still has an audience. The tricky thing about her sleeping project is that she is doing it inside a glass box at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Over the next several months, Swinton will appear unscheduled several times in random locations within the MOMA sleeping in her glass box. The trick for visitors is to be lucky enough to catch her in the act on the day they visit, in which the odds will be against them.

Swinton is known for her roles in We Need To Talk About Kevin, Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, Constantine and most recently, the newest music video from David Bowie. She won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 2008 for Michael Clayton.

Perhaps the most interesting part of his piece of performing art is the reaction she’s gotten from it. Most of the comments seems to range from ridicule to not understanding to questioning what constitutes art and how much this isn’t art. But it’s interesting because merely reading about this particular action, something we all do, in such an unusual setting, like a world famous museum, is enough for us to think about it. We question it. We consider it. We try to understand it. We come to a conclusion. Everyone’s conclusion is different to some degree. Such a process is a result from a human action that is itself a result of thinking outside the box. Isn’t that what art is?

Scream

Scream by Edvard Munch on display at MOMA

We think of art as finger painting done by children. Story writing, poetry, acting, interpretive dancing, singing, drawing. Those are pretty basic definitions. But then each of those aspects have been expanded upon by minds that have pushed boundaries, raised questions, tested our limits of understanding. Ultimately, art has helped us define who we are as people and as cultures. It’s not something we have to like, or even to understand. I think that’s the beauty of it. Some of the best art has been left up to our own interpretation. It creates discussion. It makes us interact with other people in order to share our opinions, which as a result, causes us to consider others’ opinions.

MOMA display

A display of at Museum of Modern Art

I visited the MOMA last month and got to see some pretty amazing pieces of art. A lot of it I didn’t understand and some of it was incredibly unappealing but so much of it made me think and imagine. I don’t care for museums but I could have spent the entire day wandering this one. I think stumbling upon a glass box with a sleeping being inside would have caused my mind to race. How did this idea come about? What does she think before she falls asleep? How does she feel when she wakes up? What does everybody else think? Is this making me uncomfortable? Does the fact she’s a well-known and respected actress make this more impressive? Such a simple action but so much to consider.

Art can be so much more than the painting of a picture. I think the amount of discussion Tilda has generated on the various news websites, comments sections and Facebook statuses is confirmation enough that she has succeeded in generating a great display of art.

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