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CLEARLY AMBIGUOUS
(Published: 2008-05-21)

I recently attended two art events, one in my hometown of Minneapolis, and one in Chicago.  They couldn’t have been more different from each other, yet they each taught me something similar.  Both struck a chord in my consciousness that got me thinking about art….what it is, and what it does for us.

The event in Minneapolis was marketed as performance art.  JAO presents herself as an artist and an athlete.  You enter her ‘stage’ to find a wall of white paper, divided into three sections, taped to the wall at a height about a foot taller than the petite artist.  She is dressed in athletic clothes, sneakers, kneepads, and a helmet, with a coach’s whistle around her neck.  She blows the whistle to signal the start of her performance….the music begins.  Three minutes and seventeen seconds later, she has completed her works.  It’s an intense workout—frantic yet controlled.  When the music is over, she measures and announces her heart rate, which typically ranges between 157 and 169 beats per minute.   She contends that by painting while in a state of intense aerobic activity, distractions fade, and a state of peak performance painting happens.  Her paintings are loud, strong, and vivid, suggesting a style somewhere between Picasso and Keith Haring. (To find out more about JAO, visit her website www.jaoart.com <http://www.jaoart.com> .)

The second event was in Chicago.  My husband and I viewed the Homer and Hopper exhibit at the Chicago Art Institute.   Winslow Homer and Edward Hopper are considered to be two of our country’s best realist painters.  They were similar yet different, as each had a signature approach.  I was particularly drawn to Hopper’s works.  At first, I couldn’t explain why.  But after mulling things over, I realized the reason I loved Hopper’s paintings is that they are filled with paradox.  In many ways, Hopper and his works are a study of opposites.

For example, I learned that Hopper’s works evoke stories, but they don’t narrate them.  The viewer is supposed to fill in the details.  He is said to have painted architectural exteriors and human interiors.  He often painted “couples alone together,” i.e. in close physical proximity, but emotionally distant.  He is described as having captured “the loneliness of the crowd.”  He became famous in an era of ascendancy of the abstract—but he was a staunch realist.  His personality was described as combining passion and repression in almost equal measure.

Chop Suey, one of his most pleasing pictures, features two pairs of stylishly dressed diners finishing their meals at a restaurant in New York.  It is at once clear and ambiguous.  Although one might expect the two women at the front table to be conversing, Hopper instead makes expectation and concentration visible…both seem to be listening.  To each other?  To the emptiness?  To the other couple?

What I discovered by attending these two completely different shows is that art takes us out of our immediate world into another place.  You don’t have to go far to walk in another world.  A trip to the museum or art gallery will take you there.  

It’s perfectly clear to me that in today’s cookie-cutter, me too world, looking at things differently can be a distinct, completely unambiguous, advantage.



JAO performing


Hopper's Chop Suey



Robyn Waters is president and founder of RW Trend, LLC. She is the author of The Trendmaster’s Guide: Get a Jump on What Your Customer Wants Next, and The Hummer and the Mini: Navigating the Contradictions of the New Trend Landscape. Learn more about Robyn at www.rwtrend.com. All Rights Reserved.


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