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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Column: The Artist’s Shit

You walk into an art gallery and in the corner of the room, you see a can sitting on top of a pedestal. You walk up to it and see that the can states “Artist’s Shit. Contents 30 gr net. Freshly preserved. Produced and tinned in May 1961”. You stare at the can, trying to figure out if this is a joke or hoax of some sort. After a minute or so, your face begins to bunch up in disgust as if you have just seen roadkill smeared across the front bumper of your car. You think to yourself, ‘THIS IS ART?’

With the naïve mindset of someone who had little knowledge of the art world, I was obsessed with searching for the universal beauty of art. I defined this beauty as an external entity – something I could see hanging on my wall because it was worthy of doing so.

I considered this universal beauty to be created by only the likes of Renaissance masters like Michelangelo, Raphael, Leonardo Di Vinci and Donatello (coincidentally, I was a big Ninja Turtles fan as well. But I digress). If a painting looked real and was able to mimic the natural world, I considered it to be beautiful. It didn’t require much thinking or arguing. If it was nice to look at, it was a fine piece of art to me.

But then, I discovered Italian artist Piero Manzoni.

In an art piece where Manzoni literally canned his own feces and labeled the work as Artist’s Shit, my world was turned upside down as far as what I even considered art to be. Bottom line was, I was confused out of my mind.

No, I’m not some demented person who really thinks that Manzoni’s piece has revolutionized the art world (I do not plan on creating any feces-inspired oil paintings at any point in my life). But in a strange, very radical, ironic sort of way, Manzoni brings up a lot of questions of what art can be.

What is art? Is art just something pretty to look at? Well, in Manzoni’s case, it definitely isn’t! The most powerful thing about art is that it is a form of expression that manifests from the artists itself.

I have some friends who think that art is purely subjective; that each stroke on the canvas was made randomly without any distinctive purposes. But that’s not true at all. If an artist truly knows what he or she is striving for, that’s the most powerful weapon anyone can have. In a lot of ways, art drives a lot of statements about culture and the way we live. Manzoni was testing those limitations.

Manzoni shows that art may not explicitly be about the art itself anymore; that it can be a form of the artist revealing his soul to the world. The creative process behind testing limitations to society’s definition of art is more important than creating something beautiful.

Granted, Manzoni is an extreme example. Conceptual and modern art may still seem really silly and pointless to a lot of people out there because of the seemingly “jackass” attitude behind a lot of the artwork. However, the importance of it all is to be open to new experiences and to question why things are the way they are. Why does this piece of artwork speak to you?

Also, if you’re wondering, Manzoni’s piece sold for 124,000 euros at an art auction in Stockholm.

UYEN CAO would like to know what you think about MUSE so far. Let her know if you think MUSE is THE SHIT, the shitzzz, or just shit. E-mail her at arts@theaggie.org.


  1. To be an artist one only needs to proclaim herself an artist. Whether monetary success follows depends on marketing and the checks and balances of capitalism.


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