Sunday! On a Vivian Maier Exhibit

Rufus F.

Rufus is an American curmudgeon in Canada. He has a PhD in History, sings in a garage rock band, and does many things. He is the author of the forthcoming book "The Paris Bureau" from Dio Press (early 2021).

Related Post Roulette

26 Responses

  1. Jaybird says:

    Oh, Rufus.

    This is *AWESOME*.Report

  2. Jaybird says:

    As for the root question, I think it has to do with the whole “we, as a society” thing.

    If the emphasis is on the individual, then of course we should follow the wishes of the individual and err on the side of maintaining privacy if there is any question about the wishes of the individual artist.

    If the emphasis is on the society, then we should have the art be seen by as many people as who would want to see it and err on the side of publicity if there is any question about the wishes of the individual artist.

    I mean, if Vivian Maier was an amateur botanist and came up with a better tomato strain or redder beet that made richer dyes, we wouldn’t have a problem with that stuff coming to light. Hrm. But we might have a problem with Monstanto or GSK making billions off of it…

    But this is art that I am pleased to have seen and feel embiggened for having seen it. To say that this art should have been kept from me seems only to make sense if the emphasis is on the individual to a huge degree (rather than the emphasis being on the whole “we, as a society” thing).

    And there just aren’t that many areas anymore where the emphasis is on the individual to that extent anymore.Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to Jaybird says:

      I think it also depends on how you feel about the soul. I mean, if there is a soul and an afterlife and all of the great et cetera, it’s a bit different to share someone’s work after they go below ground.Report

      • Rufus F. in reply to Rufus F. says:

        I’ve also heard of a playwright whose works were supposedly phenomenal but who insisted they not be staged after his death. I think that has been honored but maybe because everyone knows that he wanted that. In this case, it’s not like anyone knows for certain what she wanted.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Rufus F. says:

          Well, I don’t have where-to-stand when it comes to issues of the soul but I am willing to say that I am selfish enough to be pleased by a world that has more art and more music and more amateur photography that is easily confused for professional.

          I have approximately *ZERO* qualms with looking at pictures taken by dead people, reading books by dead people, and listening to music by dead people even if they wouldn’t have wanted me to when they were still alive.

          If it’s high quality, it makes the world a better place and we’re better off having it.
          If it’s low quality, it’s likely to be drowned out by professional low-quality stuff and it’ll effectively be burned anyway.Report

        • Saul Degraw in reply to Rufus F. says:

          How about Kafka wanting his stories burned? Are we better or worse off because his friend and literary executor refused the last wish?

          Without a name, the story sounds false.Report

          • Maribou in reply to Saul Degraw says:

            @saul-degraw Whether we are better or worse off doesn’t answer the question of whether it was right for it to have been done or not. It may be necessary to answering the question, but it’s not sufficient.Report

            • Saul Degraw in reply to Maribou says:

              I already expressed my views that I’m not sure how much weight the desires of the dead should have on the living in perpetuity. I find that an oppressive concept. This includes the powerful and the not. My example was Barnes, the PA pharma multi-millionaire who developed a great art collection and some really idiosyncratic ideas on how the art should be arranged and viewed. Effectively, this made it very hard for the public to view the art even though he created a foundation/museum. It was a decades long legal struggle to get this opened up.

              I’m not sure how one can go head held high and defend the view of Barnes that the art should be effectively sealed from the public yet many do.Report

          • Rufus F. in reply to Saul Degraw says:

            I think I said something about Max Brod below? But he definitely comes to mind, partly because I read something recently about how he was a great writer and realized I’d only ever thought of him as the guy who didn’t burn Kafka’s work. I think his explanation was that Kafka must have known he would never do it, or he would have asked someone else. That I can understand. I have some friends who would tell me to burn their work upon their death and I’m fairly certain they know it wouldn’t happen.Report

  3. Pinky says:

    Gentrification is a provocative analogy. I guess it’s apt, although one of its implications (the displacement of the poor) doesn’t apply in art. One person creates art for her own satisfaction; another person publicizes the art for his own reasons (money, prestige, and societal benefit are likely among them). No one gets less than they expected going into it. I don’t see how other people’s use of an artist’s work negatively affects the artist, or sets a precedent that could hurt people. There’s an icky sense of exploitation, but it’s only a sense. The really weird thing is that Instagram is in some sense the hero of this story.Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to Pinky says:

      Ya know, my tongue is always at least 15% in my cheek. I’m riffing off the thing in the art world where everyone is a collector who appreciates art on a deep and profound level and certainly not a speculator, which is the most vulgar thing you could call someone. They’re not buying sharks in formaldehyde because they see it as a blue chip investment- they’re aesthetes.

      You’re right that the good aspect of all of this is a handful of artists become superstars and it’s not like it makes the others poorer.Report

  4. Saul Degraw says:

    As a legal note, people dying on their own without any known heirs or close relations is hardly new or unique. Every county in the United States has a probate office whose job it is to find the closest thing that they can to intestate heirs to disperse of property. The New York Times ran a fascinating story about one such search a few years ago.

    These people are very good at their jobs.

    I’m not sure whether the dead should be able to control the living world long-after their death. This includes Barnes trying to keep his amazing art collection out of the eyes of the public even though he officially turned his collection and house into a “foundation/museum.” Outsider artists without formal training have been a thing for a long time. Henri Rousseau was an outsider artist. Grandma Moses was an outsider artist. Some alleged outsider artists are very good at playing the art world game like Joseph Cornell.

    But gentrification at this point is a word that seems void for vagueness and it can roughly translate as “middle class people doing something I don’t like.” Some of the leading anti-gentrifiers are often middle-class people who moved to New York or wherever expecting it to be like the 1970s New York forever.Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      I know, you’ve said this before in other posts, but I’m not citing the leading anti-gentrifiers. I’m citing Luc Sante’s argument that when people talk about “gentrification”, they mean the effects of a type of real estate speculation that’s been gonig on forever. It was a small note in an extremely entertaining book:

      I can’t say either if the dead should control their wishes in a world they no longer inhabit. Should Max Brod have obeyed Kafka’s wishes and burn his work after he died? I’d think it was a tragedy if he had done so.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Rufus F. says:

        Low Life is a great book that provides a very vivid look into working class life in the late 19th and early 20th century urban United States. What strikes me most about these photos is that life looked a lot more intense in the past. Since people had fewer indoor amusements but a lot more money and free time than at previous times, life was lived outside the house more. Everything seems less septic and more vibrant even though everybody was much less wealthy economically speaking. And I’m saying this as a member of a demographic group that had a very rough go of things before the mid-20th century for the most part.Report

      • PD Shaw in reply to Rufus F. says:

        I think Kafka’s situation is somewhat ambiguous. According to Brod, when Kafka said that he would be leaving instructions for everything to be destroyed, Brod said he wouldn’t do it.

        Ultimately, Kafka, a competent lawyer, did not express his wishes in a will, but in two letters addressed to Brod in his desk drawer. The first asked him to destroy everything (his correspondence, his notes, his diary, and his creative output). The second exempts a number of listed pieces from this request and IIRC, some works were added over time. These were creative pieces that had been submitted, or were about to be submitted, for publication. While Kafka was dying in the hospital, he was still editing his own work and presumably would have added to the excluded list over time.

        Brod clearly failed to comply with the bulk of the request as it pertained to personal writings (letters, diaries, etc.). This was an invasion of privacy and unbeknownst to Kafka has helped foster a reductionist interpretation of his work. As to the creative pieces, most of the known short stories were exempt; it is the novels that are circumspect. One could argue that Brod was entrusted with making a literary judgment as to which works were complete. Perhaps only the obvious fragments or abandoned pieces that should have been destroyed.Report

        • Pinky in reply to PD Shaw says:

          My gut says that there’s a big difference between finished works, unfinished works, and personal correspondence / diaries. I’ll grant that it can be tough to tell the difference between finished and unfinished works, if they’re not published. Even then, artists can revise their works. In any case, works other than letters and diaries were created for the art, whether or not that art was intended to be shared. Letters and diaries may have artistic value, but typically the primary purpose of personal papers is utilitarian. If something like a diary or a letter would be read only for the insight it gives about the artist, rather than for the artistic merit of the writing, then I’d lean toward treating it as private, and I’d be inclined to honor the artist’s wishes.

          It just occurred to me how much of this subject mirrors the contemporary discussion about online confidentiality.Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      Oh, and I’d also say that I really have nothing against the middle class; I just wish they wouldn’t keep rubbing their lifestyle in our face all the time.Report

  5. Rufus this is great, I hope you keep doing these whether as the Sunday post or other format really enjoyed it.Report

  6. Mike Schilling says:

    Rufus, this is great stuff!

    What this brings to mind for me is Go Set a Watchman, which is pretty clearly a very early draft of To Kill a Mockingbird that Harper Lee never intended to publish, but which was just as clearly going to be a highly profitable literary event if it ever came out (as it was).Report

  7. Aaron David says:

    Mikail Bulgakov famously burned the manuscript for Master and Margarita, knowing that it could not be published in his lifetime. He rewrote it from memory, again knowing that it could not be printed. But it was saved and brought forth in the ’60s. And made the world a better place for it. John Kennedy Toole never submitted A Confederacy of Dunces and it never would have seen light if his mother had not found a smeared carbon copy after his suicide. He may have never wanted it released, but we are richer for it.

    I don’t think there is an answer to this that would fit any one person’s mind as acceptable in each case. That said, I tend to break to the side of getting it out there.Report

  8. North says:

    Awesome post, so fascinating.Report

  9. atomickristin says:

    Wonderful post, Rufus, I really enjoyed it. Hits on a couple subjects that are really interesting to me. Thanks for posting!Report