Posted by: minnow | May 7, 2012

ART: A PC Review

What is art?

Who decides?

How do we decide?

During the Renaissance the answer to these questions was easy-just ask the Church and a few wealthy patrons.  Some might think it’s just as easy today since for a good many of us it seems anything anyone wants to say is art, is art.  But is it really?

Granted, only a few, if any, are going to argue that “art” should be defined by a strict formalist criteria.  At the same time, can we honestly say anything someone wants to call art, is?  If we make that jump have we not simply rendered the term art obsolete and useless?

In my last Art Crit. class for the semester a student gave a  presentation on a contemporary artist who seems to be on a lot of people’s radar in New York City.  The presenter began his slide show with the disclaimer that he understood if any in the class found the images he was about to show us offensive but that he tried to be careful to choose the least offensive options and at the same time represent the artist he’d been assigned.  With that he proceeded to show several sexually graphic, mostly cartoon-like, images.  Some had equally explicit text attached.

Honestly, I was more “offended” by the defense of what we were shown (by some members of the class) as “art” than I was by the images themselves, even though I admittedly found them distateful.  In fact, after a handful of slides my attitude was basically, “So what?  You can draw a cartoon penis.  Who cares?!  You aren’t afraid to use vulgar language.  Big deal.”  When one woman in the class argued, “But we (meaning artists) need to address these issue.” I asked, “What issues?  You say these but what issues do you think are actually addressed by this “art”?”  She then started a rant about homophobia and censorship and the class went off on a rabbit trail.

On one level, she may be correct.  As a class we did talk a little about homophobia and censorship and the pain brought on by bigotry.  But, the art did not raise those issues.  Rather, we talked about them because there was nothing in the art itself to talk about.  The truth is, the graphic nature of the images we were shown was not about to invite discussion of important ideas with an audience not already discussing those ideas.  The work we were shown (and told about) was an in your face statement of the artist’s sexual preferences and fantasies.  The images were crudely drawn and the text bluntly stated.  As such for the general audience the work was off putting not inviting.  And, after half a dozen slides the artist had nothing new to show or say.  (Although I guess since we weren’t shown everything I have to admit he could have become even more graphic so that’s perhaps “something new”).

I cannot in good conscious call what we were shown as the work of Bjarne Melgaard, art.  The work surly makes a statement of some kind.  It is obviously controversial and Melgaard’s willingness to “put it out there” is no doubt revered in some circles.  It is political.  It is social.  It is propaganda.  But, Melgaard’s work is not art.  His manipulation and choice of materials shows little to no skill or craftsmanship.  The idea is singular and one dimensional.  It neither reflects back nor points to the future.  It does not borrow, appropriate, deconstruct, reconstruct, or sign.  Nothing old is advanced and nothing new is explored.  Except that someone is willing to put it in a gallery and someone else may be willing to buy it I cannot bring a criteria to the table by which to discuss Melgaard’s work, as art.

Sad day that so many others are willing to ignore that the emporer has no clothes.  Sadder day that discusions of art have become so PC.

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