I’m deeply conflicted about this. On the one hand this is a picture of an advertisement. These ads have started showing up on sidewalks around the city and at first I thought they were an interesting art project, and then I realized, no, they were advertisements. Yes, I believe advertisements can be art, but I also cling to this Romantic notion of ars gratia artis, even though that phrase itself has been coopted by a major movie studio. And I also realize that artists have got to eat and if at least some couldn’t make a living by creating art, even if it often means playing the tune they’re paid to type, there’d be a lot less great art in the world.

On the other hand advertising is supposed to send a single, simple message. It’s supposed to tell you what to think—or rather what to buy—and I believe art should raise questions rather than provide answers. Any art that gives you a simple unvarnished idea is, in my opinion, very bad art.

And on the other hand—I’ve lost count of my hands here—something interesting has happened. This advertisement has been partially torn in a way that subtly changes its meaning. It’s presumably an accident, and that does raise a lot of questions. The tradition of “found art” is one that has a fairly long history—although not nearly as long as Romantic notions like ars gratia artis, but still there’s room for debate about whether art always has to be something that’s made or whether it can just happen. The idea that art is always created with a plan, that artists are in control, can be a source of comfort in a cold and chaotic universe, but even some of the most detailed and crafted works of art started as, or benefited from, accidents. Every artist has more misses than hits, and if every work of art had to start from a deliberately conceived plan there’d be a lot less great art in the world, and the fact that we can sometimes benefit from accidents can also be a source of comfort, especially in a cold and chaotic universe. Creating art, just like living life, means maintaining some semblance of control while at the same time accepting that accidents will happen and adapting to them as best we can. As a friend of mine in high school put it, “When life gives you lemons make orange juice.”

As I was turning all those over in my head and my approximately nine hands I walked past a restaurant where Suzanne Vega’s Tom’s Diner, a song that I remember from high school, was playing. Actually it was the DNA remix that came out after I’d graduated, and which was created without her permission, but Vega liked it. The song sounds simple, even improvised, but is carefully structured. I felt like the universe, cold and chaotic as it is, was pushing me to write this, but on the other hand I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that.


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  1. Ann Koplow

    I’m very comfortable with this, Chris, although perhaps not as comfortable as I’d be with a year of free rent.

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      A year of free rent would be exceptionally comforting, although I’d be uncomfortable with the potential strings attached.

  2. Gilly Maddison

    I think it’s probably ok to go back and forth between hands when exploring ideas because no one will believe you have nine 🙂

    I agree, art should raise questions. I saw some art done by a moth or possible a beetle the other day (and there is one of the questions it raised). Last Saturday, I sat for ages in a meadow at the back of a friend’s house in the country, enjoying some early spring weather while photographing the shapes and textures in a wood pile.

    I noticed some strange patterns underneath the bark where some of it had come off. So I pulled more bark off to reveal the most beautiful patterns. I have been told by two different people that they are caused by a moth/beetle getting under the bark. The patterns are, supposedly, from where they have been eating the wood as they crawl.

    The questioned this bug art raised for me are: Did the little creatures have a plan? Did they know I was coming to take pictures? Would I be breaching their copyright if I published the pictures? Am I losing my mind?

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      That raises an interesting question: why does the moth/beetle, or possibly a larval moth, form patterns? Why don’t they just eat in a straight line? Or just eat away at a single area? I can at least answer one question: you won’t be breaching copyright. For now, anyway. A federal judge has ruled that a macaque can’t claim copyright of its own selfie, but the case is currently being appealed.

      1. Gillian Maddison

        Oh my goodness! That’s insane! But it does raise some ineteresting discussion points and I am sure PETA has benefitted from the publicity this will have generated. The copyright issue seems clear cut to me when I look back on my time as both a staff photographer and a freelance at different times during my career. As a staffer, the copyright on my work was owned by my employer who purchased all the film I used. As a freelancer, I owned copyright because I purchased the film. So surely, with digital photography, the same would apply, who purchased the chip that the images are recorded on to? The law in the U.K. may have changed since the introduction of digital technology but I haven’t heard if it has,

        1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

          It does raise very interesting questions, although I think the biggest one hinges not on whether the monkey owns his own selfie but rather who’s entitled to the money. I say we let the monkey have the money, and if he doesn’t want it I’ll be happy to take it off his hands for him.


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