Call me the Devil’s Advocate
I am perplexed. I had understood that the NAE was dedicated to opposing all that is deliberately misleading in the Art world and fighting against all that is overblown and pretentious and yet, in this recent issue, my senses are assaulted by an article, with poem attached, that begins with a sentence that sent me reeling towards the chocolate counter in need of serious percentages of cocoa – this is definitely an 80% or more article. I quote… ‘A post-modern agenda challenging the ontological status of aesthetic value countered the qualitative visual arts by purporting a nonsensical aesthetic, sensory and cultural consumption.’
My first reaction is to close the magazine and do something else. Read a little light Leibnitz, perhaps? Eat a little Lindt. But, after some thought, I decided to return to the offending article and try harder. What a waste of my energy. Why does a short poem that has very little to say for itself need twice as many column inches as the poem itself takes up to ‘explain’ it? What does any of it actually mean? Poetry is surely a form of communication and should not be so very deliberately vague and obfuscated as to throw the reader, try as she might, into paroxysms of fury and cocoa deprivation.
The words of this ‘Prologue’ are all understandable of the masses, but not necessarily, as the late, great Eric Morecambe might have said, in that order. Talk about the ‘nonsensical aesthetic’! The poem, apparently, ‘contemplates the authentic qualities of discovered ‘unknowns’ and seeks enlightened sensitivities in artistic transformations’. Wow! Wish I could do that. Clearly, my enlightened sensitivities are not nearly enlightened enough. Note to self – try harder in a sort of relaxed, New-Age, aromatherapy sort of way.
Should not Poetry seek to speak more clearly to the reading public? It need not attempt to out-Leibniz, Leibniz, nor to needle with nuggets of Nietzsche – a bit too Apollonian for my taste and not nearly enough chocolate, Dionysus, me old mate!
NAE. Are your writers the movers and shakers or the deliberate obfuscators? Are you trying to clarify or are you joining the foggy few? Do you want people to be drawn to you because you speak with a new, clean voice in an Art World that is more prone to mumble pretensions while hiding behind smoke machines belching forth a thick slime of verbal diarrhoea intended, at one and the same time both to embrace and revolt the interested public? These are the people we should be writing for. The interested public. These are the people to whom we owe a debt of clarity. Enough meaningless twaddle. Say it like it is or don’t say it at all.
Flaneuse de Cornouaille
(Ed.Note: The NAE publishes all letters unedited. The views of the writers do not necessarily reflect the views of the NAE.)
Re-your editorial in Volume 32 no 2: How true when you say: “Humour can often get a message over more readily than any amount of serious work.” If only humour was more readily used and in vogue than seriousness, we might have a more workable world (and obviously, happier), but sadly it isn’t. The stuffed shirts of academia need to get off their pedestals and start looking at themselves and the work that they do, or rather don’t do. What was the feedback on the satire held in Cornwall from the powers that be? The use of satire can be a very powerful tool and should be more widely used. “But to attack anyone by saying ‘you cannot say that’ is to shut down the discussion before it begins by telling the parties they are offensive.” Sometimes we forget the power of words and the effect they can have on each of us.
Samuel Donsfield 07/02/2018
A Softer Bed
I thoroughly enjoyed your review 40th Anniversary at the Mattress Factory (volume32 no 3) and found it both exciting and fun. It also made me curious to know more, which is in part why a critic reviews an exhibition. Well done.
I have a question for you. Could you tell me why installation art “is a medium that continues to demand a lot of its audience.”?
Deidre Fischer 07/02/2018
Reply from Scott Turri, Pittsburgh Editor
Well that is a good question Deidre and thank you for your positive words about the review. I am glad I piqued your interest. It is typically not a passive activity, such as looking at paintings for instance. Installation art requires you to become more of a participant in the experience, forcing you to make decisions about how to navigate within a space and how to piece together a multitude of stimuli and information beyond just the sensory experience of vision. If you are not willing to fully commit and engage on a deeper level then you may come away with an empty experience. In other words, there is a greater impetus on the participant to work to gather meaning, perhaps more so than other mediums in my estimation.
Tate St Ives
They’ve done better this time with the New Gallery at the Tate in St Ives; the Virginia Woolf exhibition of works inspired by her writings makes this large rectangular room feel less cold and less unappealing. They’ve also put up two walls to divide the room, something else that helps. However, when I visited the Tate on a cold and blustery winter day, the wind continued to blow wildly all throughout the museum. Is it a sign of change to come?
Sara Thomas 11/02/2018
It was quite interesting to read about so many art spaces in Dallas all in one article.(Volume 32 no 3 Jan/Feb 2018 pp 21- 23) The Dallas Cowboys art collection at the AT&T Stadium makes its contribution to the art scene by helping thousands of people who would not normally visit an art museum or gallery in their lives to connect to the art world.
Making art accessible and not just for the elite is like it once was in Sicily, where even fishermen living in one room houses felt the need to have paintings, not reproductions, on their walls.
Do you know if anything similar is being done anywhere else?
Gerald Rossi 12/02/2018
I would like your opinion on this. What do you think of the contributions to art museums made by the Sackler family trying to clean up their name from the money they made on opioids, in particular, OxyContin? The National Portrait Gallery, Courtauld Institute of Art, the University of Edinburgh, the Old Vic Theatre, the University of Glasgow, London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, and the Tate have all received substantial contributions from the Sackler family.
“Ryan Hampton worked at the White House under Bill Clinton and is now in recovery from a decade-long opioid addiction. He campaigns on the issue and said funding from the Sacklers was tainted. “The millions the Sacklers donate to philanthropic and art organisations are blood money, plain and simple. When you stand in the Sackler Gallery, you’re standing on a pile of corpses,” he told the Guardian.
“I find it hard to believe that any museum board member whose family has battled an opioid addiction would be comfortable at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a wing funded by the Sackler family. It turns my stomach.”
“The only appropriate place for Sackler family money or Purdue corporation funds is in a massive settlement fund controlled by the US courts to treat those still suffering with the addiction caused by their opioids. That money should be used to right the wrongs in a way that is transparent. Donations to arts organisations are reputation laundering, and a distraction from the wreckage of this family’s greed.””
James Crown 21/03/2018 (to Dhyano Angius Speakeasy Volume 32 no 3 Jan/Feb 2018 p 6)
Interesting, though perhaps controversial comment from David Boaz of the Cato Institute on the “Separation of Art and State” from 2012:
“What do art, music, and religion have in common? They all have the power to touch us in the depths of our souls. As one theater director said, “Art has power. It has the power to sustain, to heal, to humanize . . . to change something in you. It’s a frightening power, and also a beautiful power….And it’s essential to a civilized society.”
Government funding of anything involves government control.
Which is precisely why art, music, and religion should be kept separate from the state.
Government involves the organization of coercion. In a free society coercion should be reserved only for such essential functions of government as protecting rights and punishing criminals. People should not be forced to contribute money to artistic endeavors that they may not approve, nor should artists be forced to trim their sails to meet government standards.
Government funding of anything involves government control. That insight, of course, is part of our folk wisdom: “He who pays the piper calls the tune.”
Defenders of arts funding seem blithely unaware of this danger when they praise the role of the national endowments as an imprimatur or seal of approval on artists and arts groups.
We don’t need any more fights over “Piss Christ” or the National Portrait Gallery’s “Hide/Seek” exhibition on sexual difference in portraiture or the Enola Gay exhibit at the National Air and Space Museum. And we can thank our lucky stars that Kentucky’s Creation Museum is private, or we’d have a major political battle over that.
Meanwhile, we should note that the NEA’s budget is about 0.2 percent of the total amount spent on the nonprofit arts in the United States. The rapidly growing crowdfunding platform Kickstarter expects to direct more funding to the arts in its third year of operation than the NEA does.
The American Founders knew that the solution to the Wars of Religion was the separation of church and state. Because art is just as spiritual, just as meaningful, just as powerful as religion, it is time to grant art the same independence and respect that religion has: the separation of art and state.”
Dott. Giovanni de Santis 18/03/2018
volume 32 no 5 May / June 2018 pp 3-5