What happened to “oil on canvas”?

By now everyone has heard about Aliza Shvarts, the Yale art student who freaked everyone out when she announced that her senior project consisted of (from the various articles) “a cube lined with plastic sheets with a blood-and-petroleum-jelly mixture in between, onto which she would project video footage of herself ‘experiencing miscarriages in her bathroom tub.’” Pro-choicers in particular got very much up in arms about this when it emerged Thursday, and various sites and blogs were filled with the flailers claiming that the project trivialized abortion or the z/e/f didn’t deserve to be desecrated, who in turn were flamed by others for not being properly pro-choice, proving that just like antis we pros can viciously turn on our own for not toeing the party line. However, in my opinion the main point was totally missed, which is this:

Is it truly art?

First, I’ll get this out of my way-if Ms. Shvarts thought her way to an art degree was collecting semen, basting herself with it, swallowing some herbs and bleeding every four weeks for a better part of a year, collecting what came out and sealing it in plastic that’s her perogative. Some artsy type like to suffer for their art. And pardon me if I call bullshit on her pious claims that she didn’t do this for shock value; she knew exactly what she was doing and the reaction that would be created as a result. But is it art? Art is defined as “the use of skill and imagination in the creation of aesthetic objects, environments, or experiences that can be shared with others.” Doesn’t take skill to smear blood and Vaseline on a sheet of plastic in my opinion unless she formed a recognizable image with it instead of using it as an organic video screen.

Living near New York as I did I spent a lot of time in Greenwich Village in my twenties, which was the hub of the modern New York art scene. I saw a lot of stuff similar to Ms. Shvarts’ project, all of it presented by pretentious assholes with delusions of grandeur who would earnestly explain that the slash of blue paint on a scrap of old newspaper represented “man’s eternal struggle with himself.” If one expressed an opinion to the contrary no matter how politely, you were immediately denounced as a bourgeois who obviously could not grasp the higher concept. By the way, that scrap of newspaper? I saw it being purchased-for five grand. “Artists” the world over are grateful that there will always be idiots with more money than sense who will believe it when they are told that something is “art” (or that the “artist’s” work is in demand, therefore driving up the price).

Art is subjective, true. To me, visual art is something that moves me or makes me think. It doesn’t necessarily have to be beautiful or perfectly rendered, but if it is beautiful it helps. A few years ago I went to a Monet exhibition at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (hey, I’m a cultured bitch), and I still remember one painting of a garden-yeah, I know, he painted a lot of those-where I was struck by the vivid pink of the painted blossoms, so bright even over a hundred years later. As a child I remember crying when I saw a photo of Michelangelo’s Pieta because I thought it was so beautiful and sad. I have seen modern works that have moved me even when at first glance the work seemed simplistic. I have also seen a lot of modern works that have made me go “WTF?” I hope that a picture of Ms. Shvarts’ work is photographed because I’d like to see it. Maybe it will move me. Or maybe I’ll relegate it to the same place I relegate slashes of paint on old newspapers or Thomas Kinkade pictures.