Monday, November 8, 2010

Write the Poem for Yourself, not Me

During my first year of undergraduate study in Upstate New York, I did an internship in between semesters at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. It was there that I met and learned about Lawrence Weiner.

Just in case you didn't feel like sifting through the Wikipedia article, he has written the following important statements about his artworks:

1. The artist may construct the piece.
2. The piece may be fabricated.
3. The piece need not be built.

As you can probably see here, especially in the last statement, an artwork does not need to be made - it is, literally, the thought that counts. For those who are informed somewhat about art and art history, Weiner is basically stating the tenets of conceptual art. It is the art that is in the mind, it is the idea, not the physical representation.

Joseph Kosuth. One and Three Chairs. 1965
One and Three Chairs, Joseph Kosuth (1965)

Joseph Kosuth is one of the big examples, one of the guys you will always see in an art history textbook - and with good reason! He displays exactly what conceptual art is all about. Here, we have three ways of representing the same object - a chair. We have the chair itself, the photograph of the chair, and then the definition of the word "chair" right next to the both of them. What does it mean? Well, basing myself purely on what I learnt during my undergrad years, it basically means that all of these three things, these three "chairs" we see here are all just standing in for the idea behind what we see visually in front of us.

Although there are different ways of showing it, all three of these things are chairs. The shared meaning is what is the most important in conceptual art; that shared meaning becomes a raw one. The raw is what really counts.

Okay, everyone, it's time for me to finally explain why I am giving you an art history lesson here. Today, I wrote a poem. I used to love to write poetry as a kid, and even won a few little school prizes for what I wrote. This was way back when I was about 8 years old, by the way. When I hit my teen years, when I should have been writing poetry about my dark, depressing, emo life, I just...stopped. I didn't really want to write anymore.

Recently, I have been yearning to write in so many different ways besides my academic writing, so I decided to use a pencil and paper to write some poems. I wrote whatever came to mind. What became more interesting to me, however, was the feeling and meaning behind the poem. I remembered that back when I was studying English literature at school in Mauritius, I always wondered if the poets were looking down at all students, getting pissed off that we got the meaning of the poem all wrong. When I was more frustrated, I'd shake my metaphorical fist at Keating, Eliot, Lawrence, et al and say "Why didn't you also write an explanation for your poems? Isn't that the point anyway?!"

My teenage self is the person who missed the point, to a degree. Some people see the importance of the representation. Today, based on my little frustrated self and on my love and appreciation of conceptual art, I want to give to you...the meaning.

As I said earlier, I wrote a poem. I am going to give you the meaning. If you want, you can write the poem! What is more important is that everyone gets what the poem is about. 

The meaning is in the form of a list, but the poem is not
1. It mentions where I was born
2. It is about how far away I am from that place
3. It talks about a controlled life I do not wish to lead
4. It talks about "quiet desperation" - but not literally in those words
5. It talks about a desire to belong, even though the belonging comes at a price
6. The heavy price is that I can never be free to think my own thoughts ever again

And that, my friends, is all I am going to give you today.


  1. I can;t wait to read it and i loved the art history lesson, i was always so intrigued by Kossuth's one in three chairs as well i love how you referenced him in showing the varieties of expression.

  2. :) Thank you, Gianna. I wonder if I should ever post the poem itself. I find ti harder to post poetry to the world...