Truth & Consequences Redux

Sequels are never as good as the original, but since when has that ever stopped anyone? (To read Part I, click here.)

Lack of respect, a turgid definition of productivity, vapid commercialism, and the notion that artists are unemployed slackers are just a few of the hurdles art faces. (Case in point, yesterday morning on NPR, host Steve Inskeep equated Christo & Jeanne-Claude’s project for the Colorado River with a high school prank.) Even if you wanted to make it, no one is on the elevator long enough for a pitch that lengthy. I’m doubtful even the best rhetorical punditry would dislodge the deep seated prejudices toward contemporary art. Pigeonholes aside, when the primary question Americans ask before embarking on any endeavor is, ‘what kind of money will it bring in?’ art enters the game at a severe disadvantage. Thanks a lot Adam Smith.

As I’ve proven, art people like to lament the lack of respect for art, and rightly so. But few ever ask why we want mass appreciation. Cynics would say that more people valuing art simply means a bigger money bin for art world players. Idealists argue that art is vital to our natures and represents the capacity of the human spirit. Most likely it’s a smattering of both, sprinkled with the realists desire for a small measure of respect and fair compensation. Regardless, we should learn to value the size and scope of contemporary art, and see the benefits that come as a result. A few that top my list include: the freedom and potential to get under peoples skin, flexibility, and avoiding the anemia that comes as a result of attention-induced systematization.

At stake is the power art derives through its divergence from the establishmentarians many credos. Artists haven’t all had swigs of the capitalist protestant Kool-Aid, and that’s an advantage. This is not to say we shouldn’t work to expand arts audience, nor is it wrong to want to eat, have success, and be treated with respect, only that there are numerous benefits to be small, and we shouldn’t always be apologizing for it. When art has its dazzling scuffs with a mass audience (E.g., Mapplethorpe, Serrano, Ofili, Wojnarowicz, or locally, Handelman.) it clearly demonstrates that it still has the power to cause a stir. All the easy outs and popular appeal in the world can’t replace that capacity. If censorship wasn’t deeply troubling enough, in this context its easy to see how truly detrimental it is.

Mass appeal on the scale of pop culture is overrated, and unconsciously being slipped into kid gloves is the least of our worries. With broad attention comes a smorgasbord of negatives. Irresponsible news stories by the investigative backbenchers from the local news, scolds in bloggers clothes, increased regulation, and greater scrutiny, all eventually leading to art becoming just another mega-industry; entirely dependent on the system, powerless, churning out mindless sequel after mindless sequel. Think Fast 5 meets the art world; totally entertaining, but hollow as a rotten log.

also by Eric Zimmerman

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