Gas From A Burner

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As previously noted, I've had a hard time getting worked up about the Berlin Opera's Mozart jihad because the staging in question seems pretty lame-o. But that's not a problem for Boston College art teacher Martha Bayles, a visiting fellow at the Aspen Institute Berlin and a woman who doesn't sound like she'd wear flipflops to a museum. She's in stratospheric dudgeon—not at the self-censorship but at the artistic transgression:

Ever since the high church of art was founded in the late 19th century, its modus operandi has been M. O. : maximum offense. True believers hold that art is radically free, "capricious" and "not even bound to truth and goodness."

Wait, these words are actually from the pope's Sept. 12 speech at the University of Regensburg, in which he strongly implied that this is how God is understood by all Muslims—and by assorted Protestants and modern theologians, as well. The pope exaggerated: each of these traditions has disputed and debated the idea of God as "beyond good and evil."

But there is no such debate in the high church of art.

Its creed is really quite simple: If law and custom allow 25 yards of freedom in which to make art, and the artist feels that 50 yards is needed to create the work, then he or she must take 100 yards, thereby "pushing the envelope" of what law and custom will tolerate.

Whole hissy fit here. The mystery quote comes when Bayles says "the rest of us…are tired of being pilloried by artists." I can't remember the last time I felt pilloried by an artist, unless you count the time I had my caricature done at Coney Island, and it came out looking even dumber than I'd been expecting.

NEXT: Wal-Mart Smoking Gun, with Bonus Egomania

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  1. I have some sympathy for the writer’s position, at least to the extent that lots of works of art of the last 100 years or so have been created for no reason other than to offend the people supposed to pay for them. The only reason most people paid any attention whatsoever to Chris Ofili or Andres Serrrano was because they made pictures designed to be offensive. This tirade, however, only makes the idiots feel justified, because they recognize that she takes them seriously.

    The best thing is to borrow a tactic from parents: ignore or ridicule the tantrum. I finally made my sons quit throwing fits by either laughing at or ignoring them. The worst thing to the egomaniacs of capital – A Art is to get no attention, or to be the butt of a joke. They think like children; they deserve to be treated like children.

  2. Karen

    I agree. A lot of modern ‘art’ is crap.

    The second saddest thing about this is that some people pay big bucks for the stuff.

    The saddest thing is that governments spend big bucks for the stuff, like the government of Canada spending a $million+ on a “painting” which amounted to a canvas painted in three stripes.

    However, I do think that Sturgeon’s law applies: “90% of everything is crap.” Even Shakespeare had his off days. There is good art being done today, but the academics disdain it because it lacks their pretensions.

  3. So I’m in the Tate and I’m looking at Hockney and wow! There’s something amazing about that blue. It makes me want to step outside. I want to loosen my tie. Sweet Jesus! My heart is beating faster and faster. I’m palpitating. I’m sweating. I can’t help myself. I just can’t help myself!
    Modern art makes me want to rock out!

    So I’m in the Pompidou. That’s in Paris. And the French – they’re far more laid back about their art galleries. There’s little children running around. I see a piece by Matisse. That’s my window of opportunity. I take five steps back. I put my head down and I grab at it!
    Modern art makes me want to rock out!

  4. …lots of works of art of the last 100 years or so have been created for no reason other than to offend the people supposed to pay for them.

    IANAA[rt]H[istorian], but it seems to me that there are two strains of art: the kind that celebrates beauty, and the kind that challenges one’s perceptions. They are not mutually exclusive, but like Aresen said that Sturgeon said, 90% of both are crap.

  5. I can’t help but think of Blackadder’s comments from the WWI German prison cell: “the Teutonic reputation for brutality is well-founded. Their operas have been known to last three or four days, and they have no word for ‘fluffy.'”

  6. I have NEVER understood why Jackson Pollock was so “influential.” I’ve always though of him as a pretentious drunk.

  7. madpad,

    Who dribbled.

  8. Amen, Madpad. He threw paint in weird patterns. I can do that, and if I can do it, it’s not art.

    I agree with highnumber that something can be both beautiful and challenging to the perceptions. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the most beautiful things do both. There’s quite a lot of modern art I really like for just that reason; Paul Klee and Gustav Klimt come to mind, also lots of Picasso. Those are just the modern painters; I get the same feeling from Italian Renaissance painters and Shakespeare. Even shock value can be used to good purpose, like Guernica. The problem with contemporary art is that we only know what gets celebrated, not what is actually any good. For that we have to wait a couple centuries.

  9. Art can be useful for its shock value–in theme, medium, whatever–but that’s only one of the many uses that it serves. Art that communicates nothing interesting or useful and which has little aesthetic value is pointless. I think most of the “rebellion” is just an extremely prolonged reaction to the realism of photography. Boooring.

    There is plenty of good painting and sculpture going on today, not to mention photography and architecture. However, what is critically appreciated is often crap. Crap now, crap later, crap always. And no, that’s not subjective. God hates it, too.

  10. I really hate the Reason servers.

  11. “The only reason most people paid any attention whatsoever to Chris Ofili or Andres Serrrano was because they made pictures designed to be offensive.”

    you don’t really believe that, do you?

    i really dislike most modern art like you’d find at moma (though the dada exhibit was the hotness, even if most of them kinda sucked. big ups to my man max ernst) but it’s not created to piss you off, even if the reasoning for its creation is a boring load of recontextualizing paradigms and other wank. the good stuff is good and exists as its own justification.

    the great thing about art is when you cover your eyes it disappears unless you let it into your heart.

    the poor woman who wrote that article doesn’t know how to cover her eyes, or doesn’t want to because the rush of being victimized is overwhelming her senses. perhaps this is a kind of art.

    to totally play goodwin’s card right now, the nazis freaked out over surrealism for a reason beyond the mere whimsy of control. i have no idea what this reason is or what this phenomenon really means.

    but i don’t feel attacked by works of art – even the picaresque novels of ann coulter – so i find it hard to relate.

  12. Karen,

    Right on. I have not seen any artist’s work that I am able to appreciate more than Klee’s. I get chills when I see his pieces. If I am in a touchy-feely mood, I may say that he speaks to my soul.
    But I have also seen things that are maybe so ugly they are beautiful. HR Giger comes immediately to mind. Some works I saw at the Tate Modern (I don’t remember the artists). Some of those at the Tate were off the wall, perplexing creations to see at first. Some things I saw there never spoke to me. Maybe with more time, or if I were in a different frame of mind I could see their beauty. Maybe that’s the point of some of that. If we invest some of ourselves, there is beauty in it.

    Ugh, I’m not even stoned. I should try to find some football on TV. What? No football on Tuesdays? Nuts! I can’t stand wrestling. I’ll just go bang my head against the wall for a while.
    (THUD! THUD! THUD! THUD! THUD!…)

  13. There is something rather ridiculous about artists in our country who dare to take a “shocking” stance against middle-class values and totally blow our minds while patting themselves on the back. Nevermind the fact that there are no consequences for the sort of “transgression” that these “dissidents” believe themselves to be comitting. If an artist makes a piece ridiculing all the majority believes in most deeply, the worst that might happen to him is getting his name all over the TV. For example: http://www.theonion.com/content/node/28771

    Of course, there is one exception to this rule. If you want to really put yourself out there, if you want to really be a rebel, if you really want to take a risk, you can dare to criticize the smallest thing about a certain religion and it’s practices. I’ll give you a hint: Not the Jews.

  14. There is something rather ridiculous about artists in our country who dare to take a “shocking” stance against middle-class values and totally blow our minds while patting themselves on the back. Nevermind the fact that there are no consequences for the sort of “transgression” that these “dissidents” believe themselves to be comitting. If an artist makes a piece ridiculing all the majority believes in most deeply, the worst that might happen to him is getting his name all over the TV. For example: http://www.theonion.com/content/node/28771

    Of course, there is one exception to this rule. If you want to really put yourself out there, if you want to really be a rebel, if you really want to take a risk, you can dare to criticize the smallest thing about a certain religion and it’s practices. I’ll give you a hint: Not the Jews.
    Although I suppose the article already mentioned that point.

  15. Dave-

    Right on!

    This is a perfect opportunity for all these artists to show their committment to *really* epater les bourgeoisie. I mean, the Muslims are truly epateed — isn’t that precisely the result the artists have been looking for for years? Why back down now, just when their efforts to generate shock have succeeded beyond their wildest imaginations?

    The anti-Christian art is played out. Like the guy in the *Onion* says, homoerotic sacrilege is so boring if it involves Christianity. So switch to a different target religion. Why not a certain holy book immersed in a jar of urine? Why not a cross-dressing Prophet doing a striptease while fondling a goat? Tell the Muslims that they not only have to tolerate this sort of thing, they have a duty to pay taxes for it!

  16. I can’t remember the last time I felt pilloried by an artist

    I can. But it wasn’t because she was boundry-pushing.

    I voiced the art-heresy that Norman Rockwell was an artist, and she immediately informed me that he was merely an illustrator.

    I let her have her little tiff and moved on.

  17. What I don’t understand is why supposedly “hip” and “with-it” people in the art scene are so out of touch about art.

    Right now, it seems all art falls in one of the following categories:

    1. Revered person represented in an insulting way, such as the Virgin Mary splattered with dung, or a severed mohamed head. Even the Jihadist seem kind of bored by it nowadays.

    2. “Subtle” anti-Americanism. Oh boy, you painted a picture of a McDonalds with a golden nazi sign instead of the golden arches… yeah, that is very political… You are a political artists, cause like you are all political and everything!

    3. Someone who desperatly wants you to know she is a lesbian. (maybe your parents got all freaked out when you told them, but I would be more shocked if you told me you were a Republican than a lesbian)

    4. Black and white photos of someone who is black, and someone who is white. Some real Photography 101 stuff, just one step above an ironic abandoned building (An abandoned church with “Jesus Is Eternal” sign on it)

    5. Guerilla Artwork – If it wasn’t art when you did it as a college prank, it isn’t art now!

    Why are people in the art scene, you are so cynical about everything else, are so completly blind, so completly un-self-aware, about the ridiculous cliches in most modern art?

  18. (THUD! THUD! THUD! THUD! THUD!…)
    Oh, hey, everybody, I’m back.
    Oh, yeah, I met these guys who posted above me while engaged in my new favorite activity. It’s called “Being Dumb, and Making Myself Dumber While I Do It.” These guys are, like, the “pros.” Hang on, I’ve totally got to try to catch up. It’s my competitive nature. (THUD! THUD! THUD! THUD! THUS! [AW CRAP!!])

  19. That “cynic[ism] about everything else” is usually as fake as William Buckley’s accent, and when it’s not, it’s as fine an example of tamed credulousness as believing that the played-out Adbusters crap you list, or any state-sponsored shat-on icon, can “challenge perceptions.” Whose? Certainly no one who says so, or who pays to be told so.

    Which is a kind of cynicism, I guess.

  20. I’m a graphic designer and videographer by trade and I see a LOT of crap. Sometimes my job is the copy that crap.

    Artists of one stripe or another can prattle on about whatever they think is important. As for myself, most of my work is in the service of marketing and sales. So I always look to David Ogilvy, a famous ad man who said, “If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative.”

    That doesn’t just apply to commercial art. If a “serious” artist wishes to eat, he has to be able to sell his work. As such, it must resonate with someone willing to pay for it.

    I always figured Modern Art empressarios saw the Cubist and Dada eras and figured they could cash in. All they did was move art further away from true relevance by promoting head-scratching, inaccessable garbage.

    Still, there’s some terrific art being produced. Look for it but trust your own impressions. A toilet hanging on the wall of a museum isn’t art…it’s a place to pee.

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