Is laser art “art” or a special effect?

Don’t bother to answer. There’s little need for insight here. When laser’s narrow beams of light are orchestrated into an art show, they become second cousins to all the vacuous immersive art shows.

Flash in a pan

Laser light’s flashiness can strike you dumb, fooling you into thinking there’s something to it until you realize that flashiness is all there is – a technological display not unlike fireworks on July 4th.

I don’t often side with England’s leading art critic Jonathan Jones, but his takedown of a laser show called “Future Shock” at The Strand in London, has me cheering him on.

The Strand considers laser art the future. Jones points out that such a thing already happened two years ago in Manchester when the theatrical production of “Back to the Future: The Musical” premiered. You get the same effect, he said: “Like being at a pretentious nightclub where no one dances.”

Of course, that musical is based on the 1985 sci-fi movie “Back to the Future.” Laser light has a long association with sci-fi movies – “Star Wars” and “Tron” come to mind.

Movie magic

But as I see it, the highs you may get from laser light shows don’t come close to the cinematic jolt in a sci-fi film where there is no laser light: the final scene of the 1968 “Planet of the Apes.”

The sudden sight on an empty beach of a sunken Statue of Liberty, with only her head and torch-holding hand sticking up, can hit you harder than any play of light beams, and for good reason.

As Jones continues to make clear, laser art is “gimmicky entertainments...Art needs content, intellect, emotion, and poetry…we need the sordid, irritating presence of filthy life to feel something as art.”

Thinking of the collapsed Lady Liberty while Putin threatens nuclear war brings to mind another (laser light-less) end-of-the-world movie – “On the Beach.”

Unlike laser’s glitzy high colors, the 1959 movie “On the Beach” was made in black and white and stuns just the same.

The “filthy life” is the fact of life that the superpowers destroyed one another.

The last surviving country – Australia – awaits the deadly radiation cloud with the slim hope of other survivors owing to a Morse code-like signal coming from the U.S. West Coast.

The Royal Australian Navy sends a submarine there to find the source of the signal, hopeful that the radiation dissipated before it reached the U.S.

But the crew finds no life at all. As for the Morse-code-like signal, it was only a soda-pop bottle dangling by a window shade cord in an open window.

Nudged by an ocean breeze into a nearby telegraph key, the soda bottle emitted random signals, killing all hope.

But, not to leave you too depressed, something Jones said in his rant against “Future Shock” may help: “If the future is no worse than a slightly silly labyrinth of pretty but ephemeral electronica, we will be lucky.”