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October 28, 2008 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 2008-10-28

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The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

Tuesday, October 28, 2008 - 5

Modern art reeks
o the conceptual

R alph Waldo Emerson
once wrote, "Love of
beauty is taste. Creation
of beauty is art." While I love
Emerson dearly, if we think of
"beauty" as something that looks
beautiful, I
would have to
disagree - art
isn't necessar-
ily "pretty."
How, then,
would we clas-
sify contem- -WITNEY
porary artist
Piero Manzoni
and his 1961 art
piece, "Merda d'Artista"? The
piece itself consists of 90 cans
of Manzoni's own feces, canned
and tacked with labels reading
"100% Pure Artist's Shit" writ-
ten in several languages, along
with the statement that the
feces are "Freshly Preserved."
The cans themselves are a dull
aluminum color, and the labels
are an unsightly mustard-gray
- not something one would use
to decorate the dining room
The idea of aesthetics is
brought into question here, or
what people think of as having
artistic worth and what people
would consider attractive; not
only in the sense of what is visu-
ally pleasing, but in how a per-
son reacts emotionally to a piece
of art. Historically we've been
taught that what's attractive is
solely dependent on looks, but if
"Merda d'Artista" were worth
as much as its looks and content,
the artwork wouldn't fetch more
than D97,000 ($154,000). And
this tally is based on the auction
of just one can of Manzoni's shit
- tiere are 89 others he created
along with it, which creates a net
worth of over $13 million for the
entire collection.
Why were people willing
to pay so much for the feces?
While the cans might not have
beep plassically beautiful, they
were valued because Manzoni's
art piece did what no other art
piece had previously done: It
questioned the worth and merit
of the artist and questioned the
idea of commerce and econom-
ics through canned excrement.
By selling the piece off as "art,"
Manzoni questioned the value
of art and beauty, challenging
the age-old idea that beauty is
art and art is beauty. Manzoni
saw that there was another ele-
ment to art itself - art wasn't
just made to be tacked up on
somebody's wall, it was meant to
communicate something. It was
beautiful in concept while its
physicality might have been a bit
Our changing idea of beauty is
related to our changing culture:
Beauty is a living word with a
living definition. Old ideas of
beauty were limited to European
Renaissance aesthetics, where
statues of comely men were
chiseled out of marble and God
reached out to man on the ceil-
ing of the Sistine Chapel. But as
we move forward in time, our
concept of beauty branches out
from a limited definition to a
broader one - one that encap-
sulates more than the narrow
interest of "prettiness" and is
driven by expressing areas of
our lives and global issues that
are now everyday concepts to us,

including capitalism, colonial-
ism, globalization, sexism, rac-
ism and homosexuality, to name
a few.
Art is no longer just a decora-
tion, but functions as a statement
that reveals the cultural and
social understanding of the art-
ist. The issues discussed within
contemporary art have been
expanding as well, as the art-
ists' demographic itself has been
changing. Now, more and more,
artists are of non-European
descent, or identify culturally
with minority nations or groups,
lending a voice to individuals
who haven't historically been
For instance, we can take
Cindy Sherman, a female artist,
whose staged self-portraits dis-
sect the idea of identity through
the way she dresses herself up
under the guises of drastically
different female personas, all of
whom look startlingly dissimi-
lar. Sherman's artwork raises
the idea of female identity and
women's roles within society.
We can also look into London
artist Yinka Shonibare, who is
of Nigerian descent and whose
artwork reflects the concepts of
biculturalism and self-percep-
tion versus cultural perception
of race and culture. Shonibare's
artwork seeks to create a sort
of cultural and racial confu-
sion. His 1998 work "Diary of a
Victorian Dandy" depicts Shoni-
bare as a powder-wigged dandy
overseeing a white Victorian
court. Similar to Sherman's art-
work, Shonibare doesn't seek to
explain his own identity through
his creations, but instead uses
art as a means of questioning
what identity means, not only as
a singular adjective, "black" or
"African," but as a binary, where
two backgrounds are brought
into play: "Nigerian" and "Brit-
Art redefines beauty as not
being a primarily visual aesthet-
ic. It moves beyond the visual
into the conceptual. The ques-
tions that art incites are often-
Abstract beauty
trumps an
age-old 'pretty'
times the key to understanding
art, where the art pieces aren't
intended to be pretty but
intended to open the viewer's
mind. It's the way art provokes
the minds that create the beauty
of the artwork itself. Art has
become more than just a passive
exercise where one person looks
into the life or ideas of another;
it's more than just the passing
observation of a viewer saun-
tering through an art museum.
Art has become a dialogue, a
movement of thought from one
person to another, the exchange
of ideas that causes us to ques-
tion who we are and where we'd
like to be.
Pow just narrowly lost the bid
for a can of Manzoni shit. E-mail
her at poww tumichedu.

"We're herefor the 'This is Halloween' rehearsal."
Now 10 albums deep, Ryan
Adams hammers out another
exercise in songwriti ng prowess

It seems Ryan Adams never
runs outof ideas. Inthe eightyears
since he made his solo debut with
he's released 10
albums and one *
EP while still
finding time for Ryan Adams
various guest &tle
appearances and
even some pro-
duction work. Cardinology
He put out an Lost Highway
unprecedented Recor ds
three full-length
albums in 2005
alone, cementing his reputation as
a prolific powerhouse. But while
the sheer magnitude of his output
remains impressive, the quality of
his work has been unquestionably
inconsistent throughout the years.
With Cardinology, Adams again
proves his vast ocean of ideas
isn't drying up. But perhaps more
importantly, he proves he is still
capable of producingthe engaging,
sincere brand of rock'n'roll that
first brought him to fame.
Like many of his other releas-
es, Cardinology is a testament to
Adams's ability to make good song-
writing sound easy. In a nutshell,
that's just what the album is - a
collection of extremely listenable,
well-written tracks that neither
disappoint nor overwhelm. Adams

is a master songsmith, making the
melodic power of songs like "Fix
It" sound effortless.
But while surviving an early
punk phase, various addictions
to hard drugs and embarrass-
ing confusions with the similarly
named pop-star Bryan Adams,
Ryan Adams has been labeled
everything from musical genius to
unoriginal bore.
Haters have criticized his appar-
ent emphasis of craft over passion
and his alleged failure to form a
distinct sound. While a bit exag-
gerated at times, a lot of the criti-
cisms ring true on the album. Case
in point is "Magick," a generic pop
exercise with bland guitars and
insipid melodies. But despite the
occasional drab moments, Adams
still delivers some nostalgic rock
From the opening acoustic riff
of "Born Into A Light," Adams
establishes the sound of the
record. Dripping with folky opti-
mism, the track defines the coun-
trified classic-rock blend that has
become Adams's trademark. It's
music that resonates with a mod-
ern audience while still appeal-
ing to mom and pop. For better or
worse, Adams's music is safe. He
rarely takes chances, preferring
to write tuneful, easily digested
rock songs.

ates pre
by Adar
and foci
Per 1
sway or
and sou
make J
what su
voice ta

though this formula gener- ger. Confident and stagy, he saun-
dictability and sometimes ters over a gripping mix of drums
n, the album is still rescued and guitar.
ms's bittersweet melodies The tail end of the album sees
used songwriting. the softer side of Adams and the
usual, Adams wears his Cardinals. "Sink Ships" begins
es on his sleeve. An out- with intricate acoustic noodling
Grateful Dead fan, he that brings to mind Nick Drake
their laid-back, bluesy before it gives way to familiar
n several tracks. "Fix It" western twang.
with a grooving bass line Closer "Stop," a slow piano bal-
lful guitar licks that would lad, may be Adams's most adven-
erry Garcia proud. Some- turous song on the album. But
while it explores-new territory, it's
an uninspired drag that never gets
off the ground.
Ldams once Cardinology isn't shocking and
it doesn't break any new musical
ain slides by ground, but it certainly provides
for an entertaining listen. Adams
thout taking again flexes his seasoned musical
muscle to provide a safe, pleasant
many risks. album that's not without its rous-
ing moments.
Perhaps with his next album
Adams will take enough chances
rprisingly, the record has to deliver somethingtruly remark-
us spots of U2-inspired able. Based on his reputation, it
In "Cobwebs," Adams's shouldn't take long to find out if he
kes on a Bono-like swag- does.

000' 0

A pornographic
revival in Eastern lit

Daily Arts Writer
"Without permitting any fur-
ther explana-
tion, (His-men
Ch'ing) lifted Giovanni
Yueh-niang's Vitiello
two fresh
white legs onto "Libertine
his shoulders Masculinity:
(and) inserted Homosexuality
his organ into and Homoso-
her vagina... cialityin Late
When Hsi-Men Imperial Porno-
Ch'ing's excite- graphic Fiction"
ment was at its
height he softly
besought Yueh- W 'rk, Roam 1636
niang to call
him 'Daddy.'"
This excerpt is not from some

cheap, orientalized paperback
romance. It's from one of the
most influential novels in Chi-
nese history, Jin Ping Mei's "The
Plum in the Golden Vase." First
block-printed in 1610, it's con-
sidered the honorary fifth novel
of the Four Great Classical Nov-
els and was named one of the
Four Major Novels of Wonder
in the late Ming and early Qing
Dynasties. It also happens to be
one example out of thousands
of Chinese erotic novels written
between 1550 and 1850 - and a
tame one at that.
Giovanni Vitiello, an associ-
ate professor in the Department
of East Asian Languages and
Literatures at the University of
Hawai'i, has made his career
See EROTIC, Page 8

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around the world from All sessions held in the
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