Kirsten and I spent a lot of time over Christmas visiting the various art museums in Baltimore and there are two things I feel the need to comment on:
First, a piece of art called "Volume" by an artist whose name I've forgotten. I was walking through a gallery at the Baltimore Museum of Art and saw a longish information plate on the wall so I walked over and read it. It turns out that the artist drilled a well in the museum's sculpture garden, sucked out 180 gallons of water, and then put that water into the freezing section of the air conditioning system. (The system freezes water at night when electricity is "cheap" and then uses the ice to chill air during the day.) You have to give the guy points for adding water to a system that was already in place and claiming that it's art. (Sidenote: the BMA isn't a bad museum, although a lot of it's collection is paintings my Matisse, and I don't really like Matisse.)
Second, we went to the American Visionary Art Museum. Admittedly some of the work was kind of interesting, but huge portions of it seem to be the obsessive doodling of people with severe mental problems. Frankly, I'm not sure if a lot of the work was actually art at all. If someone has untreated OCD and makes the same drawing over and over again for 15 years, does it become art? Or is it just a sign that someone needed some prozac or lithium? There were some works by a woman named Judith Scott that raise the question of art too. She had severe Downs Syndrome and was institutionalized for most of her life. In middle age though, her sister pulled her out of institutions and started to care for her. It was clear how the process started, but Judith ended up taking the things that she valued (perhaps a coin or a comb) and wrapped yarn around them, often until the objects became torso-sized, typically working for 3 months on a single artwork. I'm not really sure what to make of that.