The weekend before last, Dan and I went to the Denver Botanic gardens for a walk, at sunset. In retrospect, this was both a good and bad idea.
It was a good idea because we had fun and it was a lovely afternoon. Of note, there were three weddings in the gardens that afternoon and I was amused at how ethnically mixed all three parties were. (Ethnically because it was beyond racial. In a party with blond bride and groom there were three Indian women in saris, for instance. Probably work acquaintances or inlaws.) It amused me because of the myth of growing white supremacy and racism. It was in fact, pretty much one of those things you only see in America, even while our media is busy convincing far more segregationist Europe of how segregated and hateful we are. (PFUI.)
One of the parties was rigorous steam-punk and the guests had fanned out all over the garden, making it both very interesting and making me go “Yes, the geeks have won.”
It was a bad idea because the botanic gardens were holding a sculpture exhibit, called “human nature” with statues from various times and places.
And why was this a bad idea, Sarah?
Mostly because I’m married to a mathematician. There is a certain… ah… compulsiveness that comes with it. If there’s something that’s numbered and has a route, we OF COURSE have to follow the route and see every single statue, even if that’s not what we set out to do.
This made things very interesting, since the wedding parties were blocking some of the statues, and others we could see from a distance were the sort of modern art that your kids could do with a backyard forge, meaning the actual level of artistry was about the level of a kindergartner, only they used metal instead of playdough.
This leads us to Sarah’s first rule of art: if people viewing it have trouble telling it from accidental formations, it’s probably not art.
The second corollary of this is: if you need an elaborate card pointing out to you that it’s art, it’s probably not art.
The third would be that if you need a placard explaining to you how daring and courageous this art is, and how it defied some tyrannical regime at great peril to the artist’s life, it’s not only not art, you’re in the presence of a self-aggrandizing conman.
This always annoys me because you find this in every branch of the arts, and frankly these people are given way more credit than they should be, partly because born and bred Americans, even those who claim vaunted knowledge of the world have no actual knowledge of what life under a dictatorship that silences dissent is like. (I remember for instance a friend who thought my mom might disapprove of my being a writer because “she thought dictators would stop you.”)
Look, unless a writer or an artist is pretty explicit in his/her opposition to a tyrannical regime there is a good chance they’ll be left unmolested. Frankly, explicit or not the overwhelming chance is they’ll be UNNOTICED unless someone denounces them. And even then, the ones that end up arrested have EXPLICITLY spoken out against the regime, in ways that can’t be ignored.
An East German poet I met in the eighties said that mostly the regime had contented itself in saying he was mad. And while his poems could be read as very explicitly anti-communist, he never mentioned any of the figures of the regime at the time, and was therefore largely ignored.
Yes, tyrannies sometimes step, with disproportionate force, on normal citizens who just “said something” but those instances are usually fairly isolated and the principle of it is “unpredictable.” (Which means they might step on you for something you never anticipated, too) Yes, this silences a lot of people who then think that it could happen to them (we are seeing some of this right now with social media banning and silencing) and moderate themselves before they speak.
BUT again, this is rarely — I would say “never” except that I don’t actually know all the outrages perpetrated by evil regimes — visited upon people who are allegorical or allude to or simply make some sculpture or painting they say “means” something.
What brought this mind particularly was this sculpture which had its own self-lauding description about the courage of the artists who made this to “oppose the Franco regime.” The sculpture apes the image of the little princess Margarita, infanta of Spain.
Apparently, according to the card, the Franco regime made this painting a symbol of Spain or something (look, I grew up nearby and NEVER HEARD OF ANY OF THIS.) So, by turning it into a grotesque monolith the artist was “defying” Franco.
And I’m sure he felt warm ALL OVER.
Seriously. If you’re defying an actual dictator, you name the dictator and say you’re defying him. You don’t create a sort of 3-D silhouette of a famous painting.
I could be wrong, of course. Maybe the artist was horribly persecuted for this sculpture and Franco talked about how much it irked him or whatever. Frankly, I don’t feel interested enough to look it up, because the sculpture itself did not in any way engage me or make me think.
Yeah, I do get that art is a personal experience.
I’m also fairly sure if the artist had been thrown into a dungeon for the sculpture this would be mentioned that in that adulatory card.
Also, I’m starting to get sick, tired and a little nauseated after reading this sort of thing. It’s like people patting themselves on the back for fighting the “tyrannical” Bush or Trump. Kindly tell me about your heroism when you suffer anything from it. Yes, okay, having certain prizes and accolades inflicted upon you IS a form of punishment. But since I’m fairly sure people who do this don’t think of them that way, it doesn’t count.
Bad art is bad art. Telling me you’re so courageous for creating it doesn’t make it any better.
If you need a little card to tell me you’re so important, you’re not important.