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The Art of a Good Cry
Francine Prose has a thoughtful take on the subject in the New York Review of Books. She writes about the recent Marina Abramović show, The Artist is Present, at New York's Museum of Modern Art, in which the artist sat at a table and invited viewers to sit with her and look into her eyes. I know, I know: it sounds like a joke of contemporary art, a loopy concept designed to make you say, "Huh? That's art?" Prose thought so too when she saw the performance in person. But upon reflection, she writes, "Somehow it had escaped my notice that sitting across from Abramović in the museum atrium was, for some, a quasi-religious occasion. As the film carefully records, people wept, and responsive tears welled up in Abramović’s eyes." The moving aspect of the art, in this case, was not a show of technical skill, nor a representation of a beautiful sight. It was the moment of connection, the nexus of the personal feeling with the public event.
But if you've never been moved to tears by a work of visual art (I have to confess, I don't think I have),you are not alone: Prose is sympathetic to the difficulties of connecting to a painting in a museum room full of fellow tourists. Still, she reminds us that visual art, even if it seems strange, like Abramović's work, or impenetrably abstract, like the colorful paintings of Mark Rothko, is often about communicating emotion. In the end, Prose asks why so many viewers found Abramović's work so moving, and answers herself: "This is the moment in which we live. Alienated, unmoored, we seek our salvation, one by one, from the artist who brings us the comforting news: I see you. I weep when you weep. The mystery, and the miracle, is that you exist."
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