Monday, December 13, 2010

To Create is To Love

Sometimes you are witness to a perfect storm of Fail...

In a large survey of museum-going households released in April, it was found that they are significantly better educated and affluent than the U.S. population; they are also overwhelmingly white. The time has come, then, to stop funding the leisure of rich white people: all public monies for the arts should cease. Quite frankly, to make the working class pay for the leisure of the rich amounts to class discrimination. In the spirit of social justice, a better case could be made to fund professional wrestling—it's what the working class enjoy.

This was said by President of Cranky Old Man With a Mailing List (a.k.a the Catholic League), Bill Donohue. Where to start?

First off I'd be very curious to see that study as Google turns up nothing. Secondly I'd like to speak up on behalf of The Smithsonian. This started when Mr. Donohue called for, and shamefully got, the removal of a work of art from the National Portrait Gallery. It was a video installation piece by late, gay artist David Wojnarowicz. Called "A Fire in My Belly" it's a haunting piece of work that can be viewed here. Mr. Donohue's manufactured outrage stems from the fact that for eleven seconds you see a shot of ants crawling over a Crucifix.

Ignoring context, Mr. Donohue calls this "hate filled." One wonders how he can stand to read the Gospels with Jesus' use of the art of storytelling, filled with frightful, impossible to taxidermy metaphors, similes, and requiring the listener to think critically instead of safely falling back on "Thou Shall Nots".

As to the classism, racism, and anti-intellectualism in his argument here is were I have to be careful not to fall into a string of profanities. Art is precious to me, as it is to every human being. And the Smithsonian is part of that. Growing up my family took yearly trips to D.C. to visit my Grandfather and Great Aunt. And part of the thrill was knowing we'd visit one, or more, of the Smithsonian Institutes.

We are not a wealthy family, I don't get a new Lexus every year and we don't have arguments over what color to paint the shutters at the summer cottage on the Cape. And yet I loved looking at Gauguin in the National Portrait Gallery, and wild orchids at the Natural History Museum, and best of all the rockets and meteorites at Air and Space.

To be human and aware is to love Art. It's as simple as stopping for a moment to admire the leaves changing color in autumn. Or singing a song, or dancing, or reading a book. That's what infuriates me about the demagogue's love of sneering at Art as a trivial waste separate from Humanity instead of coded into our innate desire to create.

Consider the caves at Lascaux, the paintings there are breathtaking and still send shivers up my spine looking at them. I love that we still don't know why exactly they were made and probably never will. But it was no "leisure class" who painted them, it was humans. Humans who knew that to be alive is to observe, to observe is to be inspired, and to be inspired is to create, and to create is to love.

The last strikes at the lack of heart in Donohue's and every like (small) minded argument. There is no love, only fear, and a desire for control in them. And Art is impossible to control, or to corral. It can hang in a gilded frame as easily as it can be painted on the side of a school gymnasium. It can be perfomed at Carniage hall or played on a Subway platform, busking for money. Art is free and makes us free, and for people who have a vested interest in keeping us afraid and erronisly thinking we're seperate that just won't do. It's up to us to prove them wrong. You can contact the National Portrait Gallery here and encourage them to put back up Mr. Wojnarowicz's piece and not give into bullies.

(And a final note with regards to that condescending remark on professional wrestling. Mr. Donohue would be most surprised to read this essay by Mick Foley about an artist whose work means a great deal to him.)


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