The Stone Lantern

Friday, June 23, 2006

What is haiku (con't.)?

I'm still enjoying my vacation. Yesterday I took my 12-year-old son and his cousin to visit the museums in our nation's capital, on the Mall. It was 94 degrees and muggy. We visited the insect zoo and an exhibit on the Arctic. Then we crossed the Mall to the Hirshhorn sculpture garden and after that, tackled the Hirshhorn itself.

What's that? The question came as we approached the first item in the sculpture garden, an array of metal construction beams, painted thick with red. That is NOT art! my son announced, indignant. Sure it is, I told him. It's a modern sculpture. Why is that art? How do you know it is art? I wished my sister-in-law, the art history professor, were around. She would have the answer. I tried the Socratic method. Pointing to a Maillol nude, Well, boys, what about that? Do you think that is art? and then, before Rodin's Burghers of Calais, What about that? Is that art? and inside the Hirshhorn before an assortment of paintings, What about that? is that art? And this, is this art? Sam and his cousin studied each piece, debating with each other which ones were art and which not. We came to a sculpture, Kiln Man, by Robert Arneson, and there the two clearly disagreed, my nephew convinced it was art and my son just as convinced it wasn't. I couldn't figure out what their standard was, and they couldn't explain it to me, but they were sure, regardless.

(You know where this is going, of course.) It didn't take long for me to ask myself, What is art? Well, what is haiku? There are hundreds if not thousands of definitions of art. My sister-in-law the art historian challenges her students to think: why is one thing called "art" and another "craft"? What is art to one person is not always art to another, even among professionals.

So, what is haiku? Do we all need to agree on a definition? Can I define haiku my way and you define it your way? Can I say, That's a great haiku! while another says That's not haiku at all? For me, the answer is yes. Everyone can, in theory, define haiku in his or her own way, but - and here's the catch - you better be prepared to defend your opinion, because I am going to defend mine with passion and determination.

So, if you aren't sure what haiku is, you may as well start with the definition in my previous post. If you are sure of what is haiku, then go right ahead and pick out your favorites, and try to write haiku that lives up to your standard. But don't assume I'm going to agree with you. I've got strong opinions.

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