What if

Tate Modern feb 22nd 2012I have a question. It goes as follows: what meaning does art have in or what meaning does art give to modern society? 

From my art education (MaHKU in Utrecht, the Netherlands) I understood that art can be a mode to generate knowledge, lovingly styled ‘presentational knowledge’ to separate it from the ‘discursive knowledge’ of science. Discursive knowledge is “knowledge that can be put into words, written down, analyzed, legitimized. Mykind of knowledge, I would say. Presentational knowledge ‘cannot be captured in words because it is too new and unknown – still too intuitive, too instinctive, too somatic. It is therefore referred to with images or provoced through action.’ [check this quote here]   The idea of art generating knowledge is an important driver behind the move of many an art institution to connect to universities and start offering PhD programmes.  

On the other hand, art is often seen as a way to transcend everyday life – to fill the gap that leaving religion behind has left us with. Which is why we nowadays build cathedrals but style them musea for modern art. Lots of money and time goes into their building and challenging state-of-the-art architecture. There is much reverence for the collection of objects within. We don’t kiss art – or at least not very often – but the similarities between how we treat art objects and how we used to revere icons and reliquaries are striking. 

So: art/science or art/religion – both are notions that I question profoundly. How do we know if this is true? And what if art is not the answer? 

How do we know anyway? Growing up in the protestant tradition I was taught that it is words that give us answers: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  In highschool I discovered mathematics. Then formal training as an engineer inculcated the idea that it is numbers that lead to knowledge, and to knowledge about knowledge. I then went to art school – relatively late in life – where knowledge is developed and communicated via images. Which is an idea I’m still processing.

So?

So I took my crayons from earlier projects, to write my question at the entrance of the temple for modern art – pictures below document me asking  ”what if art is not the answer?’  at Tate Modern. 

One answer to be had: text did not stay there long. 

 

Click on image for better view.