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The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

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Opinion | Do not arrest peaceful protesters
Opinion | Do not arrest peaceful protesters
By Livia LaMarca, Assistant Opinions Editor • 8:37 am

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Opinion | Do not arrest peaceful protesters
Opinion | Do not arrest peaceful protesters
By Livia LaMarca, Assistant Opinions Editor • 8:37 am

Offbeat | How I’m Finding Meaning in Art: ‘Having Fun/Good Life, Symptoms’ by Bruce Nauman

Offbeat is a biweekly blog offering new and meaningful takes on all things media.
Offbeat+%7C+How+I%E2%80%99m+Finding+Meaning+in+Art%3A+%E2%80%98Having+Fun%2FGood+Life%2C+Symptoms%E2%80%99+by+Bruce+Nauman
Annika Esseku | Contributing Editor

Most Pitt students have seen — and admittedly, taken aesthetic photos of — the permanent neon spiral piece at the Carnegie Museum of Art. 

A pretty picture was how I always made sense of it. And that irked me. I’d never stop longer than a beat for it until now. 

Sometimes, when I roam the empty, echoing museum halls, I feel dumb — like I don’t “get” the motives and meanings behind the pieces on the wall. I have this bubbling frustration that I’m not intelligent enough to participate in these complex conversations surrounding art. 

I feel I’m intruding on some clandestine meeting these rooms are meant to have with the real art critics. Like the art beckons for them, but I disappointingly arrive instead. 

This piece is different — it harbors the potential to make sense to me. This time, I want to “get” the beautiful fixture. 

“Having Fun/Good Life, Symptoms” by Bruce Nauman invites me to contemplate. Stuck between the enticing, colorful lights — two spirals made from bi-layered radiant tubing mount a metal monolith. The tubes consecutively beam and then darken, creating this flashing aspect that adds to the piece’s allure. It grabs attention, allowing onlookers to stick around until the words flicker to life once more. 

The quality of light that neon builds creates an atmospheric, evocative and visually dramatic mood. We deem bright, fluorescent colors as meaningful, visceral and reactive. These fluorescent, glowing lights are eye-catching and provocative — instantly drawing awareness to visual space. 

If I could create any sort of art, it would be the kind that snaps attention so swiftly, like Nauman’s.

Bruce Nauman, an American-based creator, is known for his work in neon light artistry. With creations featured in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Tate Modern and Guggenheim, his use of brilliant lights and experimentation with spatial perimeters is a recurring theme.

The intertwined corkscrews read out pairs of antonyms on one side and affirmation-like phrases on the other. The left curl supplies the opposites — “Fever and Chills, Dryness and Sweating, North and South, East and West, Over and Under, Front and Back, Up and Down, In and Out.” The right side’s proclamations read — “I Live the Good Life. I’m Having Fun. You Live the Good Life. You’re Having Fun. We Live the Good Life. We’re Having Fun. This is the Good Life. This is Fun.” 

This dichotomy of the two spirals haunts me — we all live “the good life,” but at what price? As the Carnegie Museum of Art denotes, “Nauman was fascinated by neon’s use as an advertising medium and its potential as a vehicle for social commentary in an art context.” Perhaps there is some reading between the lines required here. 

After researching, I found the “Fever and Chills, Dryness and Sweating” verbiage to be reminiscent of the AIDS epidemic. As a storefront studio owner in 1966 San Francisco, much of Nauman’s neon work was homoerotic in nature, like his “Seven Figures and Welcome (Shaking Hands)” installations. Per Julia Bryan-Wilson’s journalistic piece “Bruce Nauman: queer homophobia,” perhaps “Having Fun/Good Life, Symptoms” subtly suggests “that Nauman was making these works under the shadow of AIDS and in a complex response to its media representations.” 

And I would never have known that if I hadn’t taken a moment to delve more into the art. 

The chromatic installation draws my gaze, explores a bystander’s exchange with lighted space and inspires critique and consideration. Nauman remarks, “I had an idea that I could make art that would kind of disappear — art that was supposed to not quite look like art. In that case, you wouldn’t really notice it until you paid attention. Then, when you read it, you 

would have to think about it.” 

Trust me, I’m thinking. Thoughts spin until I am merely another cog in these two neon wheels. 

“Are you having fun? Is this life everything you’d thought it would be and more?” I ask myself. So, as I continue through the exhibit, my shoes slowly tapping as I maneuver the halls, I get it. 

Nauman’s piece was my first experience of truly understanding and appreciating art for what it is and further realizing that comprehension itself is different for everyone

I never needed to reach an understanding in the way I thought the snooty art critics would want me to — I just needed to feel something for myself. That evocation, the quickening of the heart, the unshakeable eye-locking with a kaleidoscopic canvas — that is getting art. 

In these lights, I see human existence. I see someone grappling with their societal positioning and an earnest expression of their internal battle. I see a juxtaposition of pain and joy, going from on to off to on again. 

For once, I left the museum feeling inflated. I had finally made sense of that big neon thing on the wall.

About the Contributor
Jillian Rowan, Staff Writer
Hi! My name is Jilly Rowan. I am a Junior studying Media and Professional Communications on the Digital Media Track. Something about me is I am a duel citizen of the United Kingdom, and I love to travel :)