Max Glaser Tests the Boundaries of Art: Progress, Defeat & Candles

Art is often judged useless, even stupid. What does our definition of art reveal about our self image and worldview?

Public Domain Image via Pixabay
Public Domain Image via Pixabay

Experimental artist Max Glaser was born in Georgia, but makes his home in the fast paced reality of New York City. His work has been featured in several galleries and museums, including MoMA PS1 in Queens and the BOSI Gallery on the Upper East Side. He seeks to punch a hole in the fabric of modern life, which has become increasingly abstracted, full of people reacting to images of things rather than the things themselves. How do we regain contact with the natural, corporeal world?

The project described in this short film by Evan Harms is the carving of fifty thousand candles. The method Glaser uses? His teeth. At forty candles a day, he figures it will take a little less than three and half years to complete the project. During that time he will be chewing, spitting and biting into candle wax almost constantly. He says he can’t even imagine being able to stop. Can you imagine ingesting wax and wearing the enamel from your teeth?

Glaser asserts that art does little in the world. It doesn’t build bridges or feed hungry children. Or does it? I can think of many examples of art that does something useful: the works of Plastic Ocean Project, an organization which makes art from sea trash and uses the profits to fund research to make our oceans cleaner; the work of street artists, particularly those in Egypt and Libya, which contain messages that may put the artists at risk for persecution but encourage human beings living in unthinkable situations; the works of poets, novelists and photographers which reveal people that have been marginalized and tell their stories. Art can influence minds and produce change.

Does Glaser’s view strike you as cynical or full of self-loathing? Before you discount his project for those qualities, remember that art has always been a place for revealing all facets of the human being, including the darker ones. Surely one of the jobs of art is to reflect humanity in all its delight and vanity.

There must be at least as many definitions of art as there are human beings walking the Earth. Some believe that real art is without message, while others won’t consider anything that doesn’t have one. Debates rage over whether art should be representational or abstract. We require beauty, style, structure. Unfortunately, when we get so wrapped up in defining art it slips right past us, taking with it our potential for growth.

What do you think?

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