Feel-good art can make us feel — limited

by Taylor Sharp

Sometimes it’s hard to keep our frowns upside down.

To soothe the day’s tensions, many turn their gaze to art. More than ever, I’m seeing current-day art that’s intended to be vigorously optimistic.

The popularity of “good vibes” art can be seen in the hullabaloo surrounding La La Land, Minneapolis’s own “’I Like You,” store that sells Loonicorn —combination loon-unicorn — shirts, and our culture’s renewed obsession with Bob Ross.

It’s the kind of art a unicorn would make if unicorns had opposable thumbs, but it makes me wonder if art should, in fact, serve jubilant interests, or if it should explore the nittier, grittier parts of the world. In this dark storm-cloud of civilization, is it ethical for art to solely bring comfort to its audience?

Light or dark, icky or cuddly, art is limitless. I don’t want art to only be of value if it’s the visual equivalent of hot cocoa and fuzzy bunny slippers. That sounds great today, but tomorrow I might want hard cider and clogs.

Art is capable of conjuring up challenging feelings as much as it can blanket people in good vibes. With a variety of forms there are more opportunities to get a kick out of something in particular or find a niche in an artistic space you didn’t expect.

This week I’ve wandered around campus, wearing out of the soles of my fuzzy bunny slippers and trying to do some hardcore perusing of student art. Alongside pieces I could describe as “quirky,” I saw art that I could describe as “emotionally and profoundly disturbing.” I’m glad the two can coexist. Both are important. A multitude of art out there is expressing political or cerebral ideas, and by recognizing both, we are opening ourselves up to the possibility of being moved.

I hope I don’t sound like a boneheaded art critic or a guy who wouldn’t join a good conga line. I’ll certainly smile at a tapestry woven of a smiling piece of French toast. But there’s potential staying power in, say, a piece of French toast being sorrowfully eaten by a sad clown.

Just like artists create art, art creates a slew of reactions, unexpected or clear, out of the variety of people who view it.

We can’t undervalue an artist’s imagination or circumstantial inspiration and favor completely one kind of art with one kind of objective. In comparison to a person’s possible moods, it risks becoming ill-fitting or confining or, heaven forbid, even too superficial to resonate in any way other than a nod or a “Aw, now that’s cute.”