A Word from Martin Gee

This week I have been thinking about seeing, and what makes good art. Our HSC class is studying contemporary art. Damien Hirst, a British artist, took a tiger shark and stuck it in a  display case filled with formaldehyde. It’s called ‘The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living.’ It would certainly give you a start, coming across that thing in a gallery. Another artist, Marina Abramovic, created a work called ‘The Artist is Present’. Abramovic sat in the gallery for eight hours each day. Visitors were invited to sit opposite her and look into her eyes. This is less of a shock than the tiger shark, but the idea is interesting. Normally the audience encounters the artwork, but not the artist. Here, the artist enters the artwork, directly engaging their audience.

I asked my class about these works. Jade said art should be beautiful and it should communicate something meaningful. Marissa said that art should display skill and technique. Lucy said that anything can be art; the main thing is that the artist has a message to communicate.

My Year 7 art class is creating artworks with beauty, skill and meaning. They are using an Indigenous painting style to represent their favourite place. They made up their own symbols to create an interesting design with a deeper meaning. Good artworks are like that; they catch our attention but have a deeper message. I’m not sure what the meaning of the dead shark is. Hirst paid a fisherman who caught it off Hervey Bay in Queensland. I wonder if the shark was a better artwork before Hirst killed it and put it in a tank.

I think back to Genesis, where art began and the world was new and full of glory. This is where the tiger shark belongs. Imagine Eve and Adam taking a dip and the shark is below them, muscling through the dark waters. Perhaps it is there to show them what real awe feels like. Maybe that is what a shark means. This is the original art gallery. Surrounded by all this created life, Adam and Eve hear the sound of God walking in the garden in the cool of the day. The Artist is Present. Paying attention is always important, because the Artist is Present. This can be quite hard when life is busy.

There are lots of things to see, unwrapped gifts and free surprises. The world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside from a generous hand.

Annie Dillard

A student illuminated this truth on Friday morning. I was busy, as adults are, unlocking toilets and watching the car park. Keeley called me over in excitement, ‘Mr Gee, look at this!’ She was pointing towards the bush. At first I didn’t see it, and then I did. After Thursday’s rain, the trees along the creek stood like ghosts against the dark gully. Suddenly the sun shone through, lighting up the air, filling it with mist, and touching every leaf with clear grace. Thursday morning was bitterly cold; Friday morning was like a resurrection.

This was an unwrapped gift, a free surprise. It reminded me that I need to pay attention, especially on busy days, because the Artist is Present.

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