Oliver Herring


Turdus Migratorius, by Rick Leche

A brief follow up to a point in the last post about the logarithmic expansion of the territory called art. We attended a symposium entitled YES! The Persistence of Optimism at the Tang Museum at Skidmore College last weekend. Our very dear friend Hope Ginsburg was among the presenters and the chief allure for us, and spoke about her Sponge project, but all of the presentations were informative and several were quite compelling. (Follow this link for more information about the whole weekend of events.)

During the Q & A, I asked the panel how important their identity as artists and their association with the art world was to them, and if they thought they would be doing much the same thing if art did not exist or if they were not working under its aegis. I asked in part because many of the projects they undertook could have been classified easily under other disciplines or rubrics, for example sociology, mathematics, landscape architecture, and good old-fashioned activism, to name a few. On the other hand, I was wondering how much of this the artists would have come to, in the way they had, had they not approached it through art.

The answers varied. Oliver Herring, who does community-based improvisational pieces called Tasks, said, and I paraphrase, that he would be doing more or less the same thing, art or no art, saying he “looks for deficiencies” in society, and works to remedy them. From there the answers ranged back across the rest of the spectrum, all the way to "very important and couldn’t do it without art" on the opposite edge.

For a long time, art has been acting as a conduit to non-art activities as well as a consolidator. An artist may, for the purpose of an artistic goal, explore new, unknown to them, disciplines or activities to achieve it; an artist with diverse personal interests or passions may bring them into the art tent, as it were, and fashion them into a coherent piece. Without art, there is no space where a lot of these things could be mutually explored and synthesized in the same way. As a result, art has become the most vibrant laboratory for cross-disciplinary or inter-disciplinary studies, far out-stripping any academic or other alternative, hence its exploding appeal and protean (and sometimes exasperating) qualities.

One of the presentations we enjoyed most was by the self-declared “not artist” on the panel, Tod Lippy, the editor of Esopus, a fascinating, twice-yearly publication that includes an eclectic and thoroughly engaging variety of projects, portfolios and music. By all means have a look and subscribe. The issues are ridiculously cheap for such a thought-provoking and beautifully presented product.