Thursday, March 22, 2012

From the Devil's workshop


There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."

Issac Asimov, from a column in Newsweek (21 January 1980)


When this image went around on Facebook a while ago, it annoyed me; unattributed as it was (you know how I feel about that!), I guessed (no doubt correctly) that it was created by an artist using PhotoShop to mine the cultural divide.

However a friend, who works at the Berkshire Museum, recently sent me a link to an online publication, The Curator, and the essay,  “On the validity of the Vogel collection” by one Sarina Higgins who declares: “I do believe that the Vogel collection is a fraud.” Higgins supports her thesis with shadowy photos of  “a few geometrical lines drawn on paper with colored pencils, a triangle of steel in the corner of the baseboards, a series of pieces of notebook paper with a few drops of watercolor paint” taken with a point-and-shoot camera.

On its “About” page, The Curator denies being a religious publication (which means it is, or there would be no reason to deny it).

Instead, like its parent organization, IAM (International Arts Movement), the publication says it’s geared toward “people of faith” with a desire to create “the world as it ought to be”—a world that clearly does not include the Vogel collection, Marina Abramovic or, by extension, most modern art from Malevich on.

The Curator also explicitly claims “no singular affinity toward ‘highbrow’ art or ‘pop’ culture.”

About the same time, I read “Haven,” a wonderfully subtle short story by Alice Munro in The New Yorker (March 5, 2012), about a teenage girl and her physician uncle, whose antipathy toward classical music causes a breach in the family:

            “Now tell me,” my uncle is saying, addressing me as if nobody else were there, “tell me, do your parents go in for this sort of thing? What I mean is, this kind of music? Concerts and the like? They ever pay money to sit down for a couple of hours and wear their bottoms out listening to something they wouldn’t recognize half a day later? Pay money simply to perpetrate a fraud? You ever know them to do this?”
            I said no, and it was the truth. I had never known them to go to a concert, though they were in favor of concerts in general.
            “See? They’ve got too much sense, your parents. Too much sense to join all these people who are fussing and clapping and carrying on, like it’s just the wonder of the world. You know the kind of people I mean? They’re lying. A load of horse manure. All in the hope of appearing high class.  Or more likely, giving in to their wives’ hope to appear high class. Remember that when you get out into the world, O.K.?

It all makes me think that the differences between Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, may be more than political, even a matter of neurology, as some have suggested. Or it could simply be that there are people who thrive on nuance, ambiguity, complexity and paradox, while others are fearful of anything, including art (and possibly democracy), which poses questions to which there are no concrete answers.

I offer no solutions.

8 comments:

Jim Serrett said...

HI Carolyn, I am a regular reader of yours and always enjoy your thoughts and insights.

But I have got to point out that the image that seems to have sent you off is attributed to www.says-it.com/churchsigns
(its link is right there in the picture) in which you can make this sign say anything you wish.

Anyway being a atheists, purple state person I can not wait until the left - right wing, demonizing polarization ends. I am also waiting for money to grow on trees.

Mark Stone said...

I think the sign must be right. As an Abstract Artist I've been told to "Go To Hell" on more than one occasion.

Oriane Stender said...

"HI Carolyn, I am a regular reader of yours..."
Hmm... I'm suspicious already.

Kate Mclean said...

Now juuuust a minute. It was all fine til you decided that your politics rated a rant. Bear in mind that there are many artists whose politics are center right and whose work may be abstract or representational. Some of us don't even get in line for grants. In any case, demonizing those whose politics are centre right is not only spurious but should be the job of the far left. Not a reasonably intelligent but clearly left wing art blogger like yourself. I enjoy your blog but like others...I'm getting a little suspicious.

Carol Diehl said...

Kate,I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, but there is no center right any more, just as there is no far left. If you’re opposed to reproductive freedom, want unlimited war, love fracking, believe it’s okay for Monsanto, Big Pharma, and Bank of America to operate unchecked, and that the top 1% should not pay their share of taxes, then you’re on the right. If not, you’re on the left. Therefore if being for access to birth control, universal health care, gun control, and marriage between persons of any gender makes me a screaming radical pinko commie liberal, I’ll proudly wear the label.

And while I do believe that there are a number of artists out there more celebrated than they deserve, I find it weird that a whole movement in contemporary art—here minimalism—should be seen as some kind of conspiracy (which I’m clearly part of) to pull the wool over the eyes of innocents. What would be the point, really? I’m just amazed that something as innocuous as non-objective art should threaten anyone. But then I’ve been amazed at a lot this election year.

K. Gill said...

It's funny, I just read that exact same New Yorker short story yesterday while I ate lunch. (I'm a little behind on reading my New Yorkers.) I had similar thoughts. I pretty much completely agree with you.

Unknown said...

As a car nut, I loved your letter in today's NYT!

David Holzman
Lexington MA

Unknown said...

As a car nut, I loved your letter in today's NYT!

David Holzman
Lexington MA