Tuesday, February 22, 2005

How to Know Good Art

It seems my ability to keep up with the art world isn't all that great - I mention the hope that the Poker Playing Dogs might someday claim their rightful place as works of genius, and no less than 3 readers (one of them in the comments section of the last post, where a link is provided) point out that 2 of those paintings recently auctioned for $600K (together). Looks like a royal flush for the dog who painted them.

The sad reality, however, is that the Hatcher can't even afford works that were surely scoffed at by the art elite. And maybe they still are scoffing at such art, and we have the bad taste of the nouveau riche to blame for making such Objects de Art (as they say in Paris) wildly unaffordable. I suspect that is the case, because nothing qualifies as great art in the world of art that doesn't somehow manage to insult Christianity. Unless the dogs are playing cards that have nude shots of certain virgin mothers, I would hardly think they qualify. I'm still waiting for the daring artist to insult Islam - now that takes some real guts - ask Rushdie or the family of the Dutch film-maker Van Gough. But in the meantime, all we have is the usual. It put me in mind of one from the archives, regarding the controversy 5 or 6 years ago over at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, reproduced hear for your reading enjoyment (or not):

An exhibit entitled “Sensation” has created just that in the New York Senate race between Rudolph Guliani, the current mayor of New York, and Hillary Clinton, a housewife. The exhibit is scheduled to be shown at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in New York City, and includes a portrait of the Virgin Mary covered in actual elephant dung, as well as a picture of the Last Supper with Christ replaced by a topless woman. Because these pieces and others are considered offensive by a large number of New Yorkers, the Mayor has threatened to remove the city’s $8 million yearly subsidy of the museum, which covers a third of the museum’s budget.

Along comes candidate Hillary Clinton, who has gone out on a limb to take a stand. In response to the threat of removing the museum’s subsidy, Hillary says that it is wrong to “punish and penalize” the museum. But if she is out on a limb, she has not gone far from the tree - she went onto say that she can see how many New Yorkers would find it offensive, and that she would not attend the exhibit.

You have to love this logic. A museum that seeks to offend well over half of the constituents of the city that funds one-third of its yearly budget is being unfairly punished and penalized when the government representatives of that constituency rightly conclude that the city’s residents would rather not fund such trash.

But no one can fault Hillary for inconsistency – she knows that if government funding was removable from favored liberal causes simply because over half of the taxpayers would rather not pay for them, our government would be much smaller. Imagine taxpayers having the gall to believe that they, rather than Bill and Hillary, should have a say as to how their money is spent. To paraphrase what Bill said shortly after escaping conviction and removal from office: “We could give you your money back, but then you’d screw up and spend it foolishly.” I suppose not spending it to go see “Sensations” constitutes foolishness.

What makes the story even more absurd is that the Museum is taking legal action against the city for cutting their funds. The lawyers hired by the Museum are most likely being paid for partially with past subsidies from the city, and the city, of course, must mount a defense. So, in effect, the taxpayers are financing each side of a legal dispute over whether or not taxpayers, through their government representatives, are allowed to determine the uses of their money. My guess is that suing themselves would not rank high on their priority lists.

And it is only a matter of time before some idiot says the big “C” word – censorship. If every idiot who does something creative thereby creates an obligation from the public to fund further work by that same idiot, then sign me up for a big fat government grant to publish Ideas Hatched.

Imagine that the portrait of the Virgin Mary was reverent instead of intended to merely shock, and that the same was true for the Last Supper painting. It is easy to see that these would never make into a major museum exhibit for several reasons. First, if it fails to satisfy the only requirement for modern art: that if a piece deals with religion, it should do so irreverently to madden as many bourgeois religious believers as is necessary to generate publicity. Second, if one respectful painting were to slip into an exhibit in a Museum that receives any sort of subsidy from any level of government, the same cranks who will call Mayor Guliani’s current efforts censorship would be filing a suit against the subsidizer claiming that they have violated the separation of Church and State. You can insult religion with publicly subsidized art, but you cannot dare to advance religion in the same manner.


Blogger Alessandra said...

excellent post! There was a similar post about another art funding irony at another blog, I've put a link to it here:


4:28 AM  
Blogger Incredible Dirigible said...

If homelessness, education, the environment, abortion, embryonic stem-cell research, reparations for slavery, etc., are so badly in need of money, how come no Hollywood leftists suggests that arts funding be cut to subsidize these other crises?? >:-)

5:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Why shouldn’t art be allowed to offend the beliefs of the majority? Stirring the pot was the goal of many great artists and writers. Museums generate positive spillovers to cities and there are reasonable economic arguments for subsidizing these institutions. Should these institutions then be subject to censorship as a condition of funding? I value living in a free society with free speech and am willing to put up with hearing opinions I don’t like from time to time. As someone with a bit of Libertarian bent, the less government has to do with the regulation of taste the better.

Personally, I am annoyed at being surrounded by Baptists and fundamentalist Christians on a day to day basis. However, it is part of living in a free society that I must put up with occasionally being exposed to their opinions. I conjecture churches through tax breaks are subsidized at a much higher rate than the arts.

Pat B

5:57 AM  
Blogger pbryon said...

"Imagine taxpayers having the gall to believe that they, rather than Bill and Hillary, should have a say as to how their money is spent."

I love comments like this. Somehow, they only seem to work when its something you oppose. I'd love to see a popular vote on the prescription drug program at its now established cost levels, on presidential prayer breakfasts, travel back and forth to Crawford, or on any number of other issues.

While I'm no big fan of all art, it is very subjective in what is good or isn't, and what is offensive or isn't. Just ask John Ashcroft and the big blue drapes behind him. I wonder if Alberto is going to lift the drapes or not.

And would you call Laura a housewife?

6:43 AM  

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