The public speaks
Post #1291 • February 6, 2009, 1:44 PM • 108 Comments
Last week, Edward Winkleman contrasted the philistinism displayed by the leadership at Brandeis with the valor of Rose Valland, whose subversion during the Nazi occupation of France saved a goodly amount of its cultural treasure from rapine by the Germans. The only connection was the similarity of names - Rose Museum, Rose Valland - and the whole exercise violated Godwin's Law at the starting line, but it did afford an opportunity to reflect on various levels of commitment to the arts and why, here in contemporary America, people seem to value art so little. Ed commented:
Personally I blame the government, and the wing-nut branch of the conservative elements in it in particular, for this very American ambivalence toward culture. Rose Valland was celebrated as a hero for risking her life to safe French culture. In the US, she would have likely been mocked for diverting resources away from efforts to secure energy resources, weapons, and geographically desirable encampments.
I respectfully suggest a glance in the mirror regarding this point. There is nothing nourishing to the soul in the intellectual games to which much contemporary art has been reduced. Art that represents the quintessence of pleasure, the perfection of capability, and the ennoblement of the human has been out of vogue for four decades and counting. To compare its current concerns to the genuinely difficult intellectual work going on in the sciences, and even most of the other humanities, is embarassing. In many cases the price tag is the only interesting thing about it. I'm trying to picture some modern Valland risking her safety over the work of the last three years of visual arts MacArthur fellows, as if it were the very soul of America, and it's giving me a chuckle. Blame the erstwhile conservative government if you like, but really, what have you done for conservatives lately that they should be clamoring to board the great vessel of culture?
I don't blame Ed for not wanting to have a conversation about whether conceptualism is responsible for the devaluation of art objects in the larger culture. He's running a gallery in Chelsea with a roundly conceptualist program and it doesn't benefit him to discuss it, even if he had the personal inclination to do so. Yesterday, an editorial by critic Ed Siegel appeared at Boston.com, lamenting the same sort of conservatives.
The good news is that President Obama wants to include the arts in his bailout package. Conservatives, however, are up in arms. The one constant in all this is that art in America has come to be seen as a frill, by everyone from right-wing talk-show hosts to the trustees of Brandeis. It may seem, after the Mapplethorpe controversy or the never-ending bickering about National Endowment for the Arts and Corporation for Public Broadcasting funding, that it has always been thus.
He has a point about the conservatives and their arms. A current version of the bailout would supplement the National Endowment for the Arts with $50 million. Republicans responded with Pavlovian consistency.
Representative Jack Kingston, a Georgia Republican, wants to transfer the proposed NEA funding to highway construction. He failed to get the House to vote on his proposal, so he is now trying to get on the conference committee that will determine the fate of the funding. "We have real people out of work right now and putting $50 million in the NEA and pretending that's going to save jobs as opposed to putting $50 million in a road project is disingenuous," Kingston said in an interview yesterday, adding the time has come to examine all of NEA's funding.
Unfortunately for them, Republicans, who initiated the bailout in the first place, have used up quite a bit of credibility in their opposition to federal underwriting of dubious enterprises, such as the spread of democracy in Iraq through the use of military force, for which we are paying $340 million a day. At that rate of expendeture, we could fund the NEA for the year at its newly supplemented level in thirteen hours. In a month, every artist in the country could have his own blimp hangar to work in. Remember Sarah Palin, who oversaw her state's doling out of thousands of dollars per person in oil revenue, trying to brand President Obama as a socialist? Maybe they need to lose a third election cycle to get the message that their actions must match their rhetoric in some ways.
But to answer the original question, the two Globe articles above provide us with reader comments that we might use as data points, albeit often unlettered data points. What visual artists, art works (actual or remembered only in spirit), and movements are cited by readers in favor of the Rose Museum's continuation, or federal funding of the arts in general?
An architect composes sketches to make his structures esthetically pleasing. Just two examples - the St. Louis Gateway Arch and Buckminster Fuller's geodesic domes - are marvels of mathematics and geometry. ... Visit the Staniford Street office of Dr. Frederick, a Boston opthalmologist specializing in retinal eye surgery, and you'll find his photographs of flowers truly amazing.
I dare anyone who doesn't think that the arts are worth supporting to visit the Boston Public Library, walk across the street to Trinity Church and look at the stained glass windows or go to a concert at Jordan Hall or Symphony Hall.
...just imagine how Picasso, Cezanne, Monet, and Van Gogh might have done if paint (or sculpture) had only been invented 70 years ago and had only been widely affordable for the last 10. With new media emerging in which to create art, contemporary artists are finding the need to experiment, to see what can be done, what works and what doesn't. Yes, a lot of contemporary art is rubbish, but a lot of it is sublime, as well. And for every Cezanne, how many once-favored artists have faded into obscurity?
...were the Renaissance artists state subsidized? Of course they were. Was Baroque easel painting ever subsidized? Yes, by the wealthy and it was displayed only for the wealthy. I'd say a system that got art into the mainstream is superior.
Anyone who has ever seen a Broadway musical ("Dirty Dancing" anyone?), taken their children to the Boston Ballet "Nutcracker", bought a music CD of the Boston Symphony "Holiday Pops", or placed a Monet poster on their wall, purchased at the MFA, is participating in the arts.
Michaelangelo WAS supported by the equivalent of tax money for his time - commissions from the Church. ... Van Gogh had to depend on contributuins from his brother to survive, and his work didn't sell when he was alive.....
It can be argued that without government funding there would be no Great Pyramids, no Sistine Chapel Ceiling, no statuary nor paintings on the Massachusetts State House, Fireman's Vendome Memorial on Commonwealth Avenue Mall, etc.
After all, Vincent Van Gogh, one of the most popular artists today, was a rejected artist who had no popular or financial success during his lifetime.
Most of this country's creative resurgence in the 40s, 50s & 60s (abstract expressionism, musical comedies, modern jazz, drama) resulted from the WPA's support of the arts & theater.
you morons would have no document of Massachussetts if it weren't for Copley ( who Copley square is named after) and John Singer Sargent. But in this throw away "death culture" you wait for the new piece of technology to download your brain with. That's nuts. From the cavepaintings to Andrew Wyeth, from the morality plays to Broadway, from drum beats to orchestral arrangements Art will always be the highest aspiration the human mind can attain
Ok. All politicians and citizens against any all arts funding I propose that you supporrt my bill to remove all the statuary from the Washington Mall. Knock down the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials, level the Washington Monument, bulldoze the Vietnam Memorial. Close the Smithsonian and sell off all of it's contents. And remove every portrait from every government building and office and sell them too. That includes all citizens against funding for the arts. toss out those landscapes on your walls, your record album covers with all that art. Take all art from the walls of restaurants, close the Museum of Fine Arts, the Rose, oh sorry, that's taken care of. Next, the library of Congress must go, all thiose useless books. Then you'll turn your back on films, all of them. Toss your radios because another form of art, music, blares nonsensically from them. You don't need that. The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, close it, don't need it. Forget about the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Boston Pops, the Boston Ballet.
I am from the Berkshires and if it were not for the summer arts scene (and now increasingly more year-round, thanks be to the visionaries at Mass MoCA) that area would be even more economically depressed than it already is. I always enjoy taking the Merrit Parkway through Connecticut where all the overpasses were designed by different architects.
by the way, the artist Leonardo Da Vinci, not only would have been the first human to fly if he had access to very simple modern materials (certain fabrics and lighter wood) he is also the person who pioneered the thinking that led to the contact lens.
Michelangelo put up with a lot of crap from Pope Julius when he did his work on the Sistine Chapel; but the paintings there outlasted Julius, Michelangelo, and a parade of critics, including scaffolding experts.
And which among those siding with the university's plan to shutter the museum, or against federal funding of arts in general?
there have to be priorities...we have hundreds of teachers probably being laid off in boston...is seeing a rembrandt more important than teaching your child to read?(and i was an art history minor in college)
Hey I would gladly forgot essential like food, medicine , housing etc. To keep the nut case folks that think, some nude covered in excrement is of real importance and essential to there lives. The rich, wacky and sort of perverted, need our help. I think I wll apply for a grant too, I got this thing about archie comic books, will her ever get veronica?
Picasso didn't have government subisdies, nor Cezanne, nor Monet, nor Van Gogh, nor.... you get the picture. All those who think art is better now, raise your hands. I thought so.
Give some bucks to the artist who displayed his creation of a bronze penis, or the glass of stale urine! Great works of art!!
Thank to people like warhol, lichtenstein, etc leroy neiman, we have a vast expanse of commercial art or pop art, that is nothing more than crap. huge amounts of warhols work was done by other people atthe factory, he would have them mass produce by screen printing. Look at thomas kincaide, them man expanded his "art" to everything from mousepads to toliet bowl lid covers. not exactly art for arts sake. artists now are more interestedin how they shock or confuse you. Il give you some examples. one of englenad smost prestigious art awards a very nice chunk of money, went to a woman who submitted as art, a toilet. an internation art copetetion was blown away by a man who exhibited his masterwork, a huge canvas like 20 feet by 10 feet, with the word "big" printed in very small letters in the center of the canvas, and that was it. we need to seperate this stuff from art. it does not belong in the same catagory as say michangelos david, or monets gardens at giverny.
How about the "art" of a crucifix in a glass of urine- that was a great piece of art. Good spend, huh? [The reply to this, although it belongs above, will make more sense here: Well, considering that it was created 20 years ago and people are STILL talking about it and debating its worth, I'd say yeah, it was a terrific spend!]
I actually have a great appreciation for the classic impressionist painters and classical music performed live. I'm just against my tax dollars paying for it.
Will this money be going to the two "artists" who put the bomb-like signs all over the city a couple of years back or the idiot who walked into the airport with the bomb-like "art" around her neck?
I wrote and attempted to post comments this morning concerning funding of the arts. My comments were not posted and, in fact, I received a message that the comments would be reviewed before posting. The reason, I have to assume is my inclusion of the name of a work of "art" funded by the NEA -"P--s Ch---t" (You NEA supporters know what I'm referring to.).
DaVinci was both an artist and an innovator. I don't know of any artist today who falls into that category and I am certain there are no DaVinci's among them.
What do we learn from this? First of all, just about everybody needs a slap on the head. You wouldn't postulate the existence of arts supporters who can't construct a grammatical sentence, but there you are - evidence that arts education does little to affect overall cognitive function in certain specimens. Secondly, with scant exceptions, people in favor of public support for arts cite works that conform to a fairly standard idea of beauty. Thirdly, people who oppose public support of arts cite basically the same material, but when they need a negative example, they reach for art that typifies the contemporary aspiration to cultural critique. They recall these works poorly, even hilariously, but those of us familiar with the art world can easily supply the right referents. There are exceptions, but not many of them. If not proof, I think I have evidence in support of a later comment I left chez Winkleman:
I can't speak for other fields, but the proponents of an extremely narrow and somewhat arcane set of artistic priorities have overrun the centers of of the contemporary art world. Even I, as a participant, have ambivalent feelings about that material; I have no idea how casual observers might even understand it, much less feel inclined to fight for it. ... I completely agree with the basic charge left by the unnamed Brandeis apologist, that our chemistry, biology, and physics graduates have a better chance of improving the life of mankind than artists. I assume we all agree that it makes no sense to translate this into a decision to can the Rose. But the centers of the contemporary art world have been proving him right by producing and promoting work that sets out to do things - question this notion, challenge that conception, push this other boundary. And again, compared to the genuinely difficult intellectual work going on the sciences, this stuff hardly merits notice.
In most creative forms, you have a central group of people trying to do their utmost with the fundamentals of the genre, while some playful outliers attempt kooky things at the periphery. This is healthy because successful mutations at the edge can inform the center, and even work their way into the center. For whatever reason, visual art has gotten itself turned the other way out - a center of kooky play and people trying to do their utmost with the fundamentals of the genre at the periphery. But as always, the interesting things are happening at the periphery. Your position at the periphery puts you at a disadvantage of funding and opportunity, and at an advantage of making a lasting contribution to the genre if you know what you're doing. This creates a very different phenomenon for the public to assess compared to literature or music. As someone involved in art, consider your relation to the fundamentals and where that places you in the grand scheme of things.