Comment Rescue: Selling Each Other What We Don’t Want or Need
My weekend post on finding the middle ground contained a small sub-discussion on matters of art and aesthetics. Specifically we were talking about modern and contemporary art as compared to more traditional and representative art. Alan Scott made this comment:
To me, though, Richard Serra and Edward Burne-Jones are two sides of the same pretentious coin. Each cares more about breaking someone else’s rules than they do about creating a work that stands on its own merits. Which I guess might be cool to folks with MFAs–but for the rest of us, we don’t know the rules that are being attacked. Viewing the works of art you champion (and for that matter, the works of art you despise) feels like coming in to a conversation that’s already half over….But when I look at a Serra sculpture or a Towmbly painting, I’m unimpressed. And that’s not because I’m a square who is bothered by unconventional art–it’s just because I’m not, and was never intended to be a part of the conversation they’re having.
I find this quote interesting because of what it reveals how various cultural groups (not culture as in left v. right but culture in our art and entertainment) view each other with suspicion, incomprehension, and varying degrees of hostility. I do have an MFA but it is not in fine arts; my MFA is in theatre direction. I have studied art but only independently. I have never taken an official art history course. My tastes are very much based on what I find aesthetically pleasing.
C.S. Lewis has a famous essay about literary and non-literary readers. The essay functions as a kind of preview to today’s fights over whether genre literature has merit or not. At one point in the essay, C.S. Lewis describes literary readers (but it can be both sides) selling a product that the other side does not want or need.
The idea of selling each other what we don’t want or need seems to be the primary driver in culture and entertainment fights. This comes up a lot in the art world, specifically when there is a lot of in comprehension about what gets the big price tags. Richard Prince recently had a show where he appropriated photos from Instagram, blew them up, added text. All the photos sold for around 100,000 dollars. Many of the images came from the Instagram feeds of the alternative soft-core porn site Suicide Girls. SG responded by making 90 dollar versions of the Prince pieces. Interestingly this probably increases the value of Prince’s Instagram pieces. Another example is that Roy Lichtenstein is very hated by the comic book community. The Comics community view Lichtenstein as a thief while the original artists live on nothing.
There is an obvious 99 percent v. 1 percent angle here. This puts me in an odd position because. I am not much interested in Suicide Girls because I think Suicide Girls pretends to be more daring and bohemian than it really is. Nor am I interested in comic books anymore. Richard Prince is not a favorite artist but he does make Suicide Girls more interesting via his commentary. I do really like Lichtenstein though and would rather own one of his paintings than a large collection of comic books. I haven’t really been into comic books for a long time.
I am not really sure what the endgame or desired goal is for the Comics community or the anti-Prince community. Social media allows gives everyone a platform for their passions. We are all evangelists for our interests on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. There is also something about social media which seems to favor gushing over spectacle than long-form analysis over other stuff. You are supposed to use words and phrases like OMG, Kickass, Badass, and Geeking Out. These words seem to apply more to video games and Bang Wow CGI spectacle blockbusters than to less visually driven art forms that might require more description. The evangelical nature of social media also seems to lead itself to feelings of absolute incomprehension when a person encounters someone who is simply uninterested in their passions or world view. “How can you not understand that I am offering you a better world and salvation? Free yourself from the bonds of pretentious modern art and small art-house movies and live in the wonder of comic books and video games. Abandon the art house for the new geek Burlesque! The world will be a better place when everyone stays a cultural ten year old.”
I dissent to this. Richard Serra is not for everyone, but I don’t think you need to have a complete history of art to appreciate modern and contemporary art. I like Richard Serra because I find his sculptures aesthetically pleasing. They are easy on my eyes. I also like how they change the environment and your senses while interacting with them. The whole thing about Richard Serra is that a lot of his sculpture is designed for specific spaces. They are meant to change how a person interacts with a specific place. Sometimes controversially. The fights over these issues seem to be based on dominance. The geeks and alternative might control social media but they discover that those areas still can’t crack the art gallery world of New York and that is rather upsetting to them. Why does this incomprehension and suspicion exist? Why is it so hard for us to say that not everyone needs to be into comic books, art house movies, science fiction, literary fiction, theatre, TV, whatever?
[Image via Wikipedia]