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Author Topic: does art matter?
badlydrawngirl
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posted 09 July 2003 02:07 PM      Profile for badlydrawngirl     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
yup, another art thread.

so, does art matter? do you care if you ever see a painting, go to a gallery, listen to music, take art classes in school or you yourself paint/draw/sculpt? could you live without it, and that's including popular music on the radio, ballet/opera at a hall or documentaries on TVO?

i've been reading a lot lately on www.artsjournal.com about quite substantial cutbacks in arts funding (especially U.S.) and some of the questions that arise art about the 'worth' of art, whether it actually matters in the greater scheme of things, ie. funding for education, roads etc are more important.


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Mr. Magoo
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posted 09 July 2003 02:20 PM      Profile for Mr. Magoo   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Sure, art matters, and I can't imagine living in a world without it, but, we've also moved so far from what art used to be that many people (I think) are now quite alienated from it.

Back in the day, art was something that you did because you could, because it made the world beautiful, because it told everyone else who you were. You decorated clothing, or shoes or saddles, or houses, or yourself, or whatever.

Now we expect "artists" to do this, so we don't have to.

Likewise music. Everyone who didn't play an instrument sang. And people sang after dinner, at church, at weddings, while working, when bored, etc.

Now we pay Avril Lavigne to sing for us while we just passively listen.

We've also gradually stopped having our own opinions about these things, and prefer to let others tell us what's good and what isn't. In the case of music, there's the top 10, the top 40, Rolling Stone, and thousands of music critics whose job it is to tell us what to like.

With visual arts, we made an even stupider mistake; we let the very people who make the art tell us whether or not it's good. And this system turned inwards, became political, and resulted in monstrosities like "Meat Dress", "Voice of Fire", and performance artists sticking yams up their ass. But the artists have the stronghold now - if you tell them that this is all crap then they'll sniff haughtily and remind you "who's the artist here". And we roll over. And we fund them, perpetuating their belief that they know more than us, simply because they made it up in the first place.

Me, my favourite art is naive art. The good stuff, y'know, that doesn't even obey perspective. Or folk art, like the man who festooned his entire home with buttons, beads, sequins, bottle caps, glass, and junk. Every inch of it. And it was only found after he died. Now that's an artist.


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guydabore
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posted 29 July 2003 11:57 AM      Profile for guydabore     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
art has become just another commodity in western culture...many of Magoo's observations were spot-on regarding alienation and passivity...ill say that art is not important, but creativity is
From: the Permanent Autonomous Zone known as my mind | Registered: May 2003  |  IP: Logged
Lima Bean
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posted 29 July 2003 12:24 PM      Profile for Lima Bean   Author's Homepage        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
These days we have to distinguish between art for art's sake and art for selling stuff. Sometimes it's hard to tell which is which.

And I tend to agree with much of what Mr. Magoo has to say. A lot of the art that comes out of art schools is a little too pretentious and exclusionary for me. And when the whole piece (be it a painting, sculpture, performance or whatever) is centered on one person's very individual experience or perspective, I have a hard time finding the general value in it. I can see how it's important to the artist, but not to the rest of us.

I like the kinds of art that challenge the status quo, poke fun at the establishment or otherwise make me see or realise something new. And I like it best when it's accessible, and makes at least a little bit of sense right off the bat. Better still if it makes more and more sense the longer you look at it or think about it.


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Mr. Magoo
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posted 29 July 2003 12:47 PM      Profile for Mr. Magoo   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Here's a quick question: of all the art you've ever seen (in real life, not in a book), which stands out in your mind? Which made you go "wow"?

For me it was a piece I saw at the Hamilton Art Gallery. It was a plaster or aggregate sculpture resembling a large meteor or rock, about 3 feet by 4 feet, rounded at the bottom. On the top were carved small fingers, about the size of, well, a finger. Hundreds and hundreds of them, various lengths. On the end of each of these fingers was a small piece of broken mirror.

I stood looking at it and trying to figure out what it was for quite some time before I thought to look up. There, on the ceiling, written in the hundreds of tiny, twinkling reflections from the hundreds of little mirror bits was the word "Special". I passed my hand over the piece to assure myself that this giant lump of fingers was indeed the source of the writing up on the ceiling, and it was. I absolutely couldn't believe it. I don't know why it hit me the way it did, but it did.

Another piece I'm fond of in my mind I saw during a school trip to "Keepers of Light", an exhibition of photographs at the AGO a few years back. Most of us Photo students were keen to go see certain hero's works - Adams or Steiglitz or Witkin or whomever - but some of the works of the "lesser gods" were just as powerful.

My favourite was a photo taken and printed by a character known as "Weegee" (Arthur Fellig), who was most famous for his harsh, stark crime scene photos or his society/nightlife documentary shots. This piece was called "Easter Sunday, Harlem" and showed a black family in their Sunday best. There's a real warmth and humanity in the subject - odd, for a photographer most famous for photographing drunks in the Bowery!

The photo doesn't do much in a book, but in real life it's absolutely radiant. Light seems to come out of it, rather than being reflected off of it. I stood there for a long time, trying to look deeper and deeper into it, and was surprised to note that I was more touched by this than by any of the other works I came expecting to be touched by.


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ronb
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posted 29 July 2003 01:06 PM      Profile for ronb     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
It's a fundamental law of nature apparently that the constipated and envious from every generation are compelled to make asses of themselves by bitching and moaning about how decadent and pointless ALL of the contemporary art of their age is. They will generally pause piously to admire the honest virtues of Mr Rockwell's charming sketches, before their august intellects to today's so-called "music", harumph...This is all a prelude to a longer harrangue about how utterly depraved modern society is and how the shameless display of female ankles and the loose morals so disgustingly glorified by the talking pictures will lead directly to The End Of Everything We Cherish. Horsewhipping is usually advocated, naturally.

Those who are so deluded with self importance as to actually write their views down perform an invaluable service for mankind: they provide priceless amusement for future generations.


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Timebandit
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posted 29 July 2003 02:06 PM      Profile for Timebandit     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
With visual arts, we made an even stupider mistake; we let the very people who make the art tell us whether or not it's good. And this system turned inwards, became political, and resulted in monstrosities like "Meat Dress", "Voice of Fire", and performance artists sticking yams up their ass. But the artists have the stronghold now - if you tell them that this is all crap then they'll sniff haughtily and remind you "who's the artist here". And we roll over. And we fund them, perpetuating their belief that they know more than us, simply because they made it up in the first place.

I find this kind of statement very frustrating. As a filmmaker, and one who occasionally works in the experimental genre, I consider myself a cousin to the visual artist. Not every piece of art, every film, is going to have meaning to every person who sees it.

For example, Voice of Fire. It may not have done anything for you, but my friend who happened to see it (she's not an artist, btw) was so blown away by the experience that she just sat and stared at it for an hour. Or the Meat Dress. This may not have meaning for you, but it does have meaning for me, even a level of humour.

Narrative and meaning work in two halves. The artist creates half the meaning, and the audience or observer creates the other half. The artist has done his/her bit by creating something and putting it out there for comment (very hard to do when one is making a personal statement, btw) and whether or not it has value to you, specifically, is up to you to decide.

I've run into very few artists harbouring the attitude you ascribe to them. If somebody doesn't like my film, okay. That's up to them. My next question is: Did it make you think? Did it make you feel something? Anger? Discomfort? Awkwardness? Maybe that's what I was after, maybe not. Let's talk about it...

This also comes back to "Does all art, by definition, have to be pretty?" I don't think so. Perhaps you do. It only means that I am going to construct a different meaning when presented with a work than you will, or vice versa.


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Mr. Magoo
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posted 29 July 2003 02:24 PM      Profile for Mr. Magoo   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Insofar as I just described my favourite piece of art as being a big rock with fingers on the top, I don't think I'm personally "bitching and moaning about how decadent and pointless ALL of the contemporary art of [my] age is", nor do I think that all art "by definition, [has] to be pretty". I just think that a lot of artists actually prefer it if nobody "gets" or appreciates them... that it's more validating for them than if the masses actually liked them. The same backwards anti-aesthetic that makes cult heros out of unsigned garage bands, then drops them like a hot potato after their first album because now they're "sell outs".

I certainly don't believe that artists should try and be more like Robert Bateman or Trisha Romance in order to suck up to the masses, but I think the other side of that coin is common enough; artists who have a noticable disdain for the masses.


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'lance
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posted 29 July 2003 02:50 PM      Profile for 'lance     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
But what distinguishes the big-rock-with-fingers from, say, Voice of Fire, Mr. Magoo? Neither has an obvious "meaning," and anyone could have created either, yes?
From: that enchanted place on the top of the Forest | Registered: Jul 2001  |  IP: Logged
Mr. Magoo
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posted 29 July 2003 03:06 PM      Profile for Mr. Magoo   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
If taxpayers spent $50,000 on "Special" then I suppose the comparison has some merit. Although, if you'd like a comparison of the two pieces, you carve hundreds of fingers into a slab of plaster, and painstakingly glue little pieces of mirror on the ends, aligning each so that they contribute to reflecting a perfect word on the ceiling.
Meanwhile, I'll be painting a big canvas red with a roller.

Remember, we aren't talking about the artistic merits of these pieces - certainly the world is big enough to accomodate all art without running out of room, and as has been noted, there will always be someone who gets something out of just about any piece of art. What makes "Voice of Fire" so contentious is the amount of money spent on a piece of art that most people wouldn't see as being worth $50K. To many it's the emperor's new clothes, and since they're the source of that $50K I don't think you can simply dismiss them as Philistines or idiots. There wasn't a single piece of art anywhere that might have spoken to a few more Canadians? Was this a purchase for the benefit of all Canadians, or the small handful of art intelligentia who see something more than a big red canvas?


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'lance
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posted 29 July 2003 03:18 PM      Profile for 'lance     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
But Zoot made the point (as did I on another thread) that you don't need to be a member of the "art intelligentsia" to be impressed by "Voice of Fire" in person. Certainly many people who went to see it, expecting to hate or dismiss it, changed their minds when encountering it.

Really, it's only a relatively few Canadians who can get to the National Gallery. Even of those in the area who can go easily, I'll wager only a small fraction do. So in a sense there isn't a whole lot of point in trying to acquire works that speak to "a few more Canadians" (though I believe the Gallery does try to get more visitors all the time, as who could blame them in an era of sketchy government support for the arts). If you can't lure people in from Nepean -- hell, from Rockcliffe Park, like as not -- you're not going to get more than a very few to come from Toronto or Halifax or Regina to see the gallery.

And besides, you're focusing on a very few artworks -- and besides II, who's to say that the whole "Voice of Fire" and "meat dress" hullaballoos didn't attract some people who'd never have gone otherwise?

I think it's probably a mug's game to try to run a gallery only or primarily on the basis of what will bring visitors in. Almost more important I'd say, to any serious gallery, is to give a sense of what artists are up to, or have been up to. Aesthetic judgements are almost secondary; certainly calculations of potential popularity are.

And while I hate to break it to you, the National Gallery spent not $50,000, but $1.76 million on Voice of Fire.


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ronb
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posted 29 July 2003 03:32 PM      Profile for ronb     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
You know what I also think isn't art? That porno movie that Cretin and the Lie-berals gave all that money to. In fact, the only "art" I know about is the stuff that the Alliance talks about 'cause it costs so damn much taxpayers money. They should spend all that money on new helicopters to attack Iraq instead. Oh, and tax cuts.

I far preferred it when rich guys got to decide what was in their museums and namby-pamby artists had to know their place and shut the hell up or starve to death. Those were good days. Rich guys is super smart.


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'lance
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posted 29 July 2003 03:34 PM      Profile for 'lance     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 

From: that enchanted place on the top of the Forest | Registered: Jul 2001  |  IP: Logged
Mr. Magoo
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posted 29 July 2003 04:05 PM      Profile for Mr. Magoo   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
And besides, you're focusing on a very few artworks

Well, for what it's worth, I was just thinking of notable examples of art that clearly didn't do much for the people who paid for it. I actually thought "Meat Dress" was kind of interesting, myself.


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Timebandit
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posted 29 July 2003 04:18 PM      Profile for Timebandit     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Remember, we aren't talking about the artistic merits of these pieces - certainly the world is big enough to accomodate all art without running out of room, and as has been noted, there will always be someone who gets something out of just about any piece of art. What makes "Voice of Fire" so contentious is the amount of money spent on a piece of art that most people wouldn't see as being worth $50K. To many it's the emperor's new clothes, and since they're the source of that $50K I don't think you can simply dismiss them as Philistines or idiots. There wasn't a single piece of art anywhere that might have spoken to a few more Canadians? Was this a purchase for the benefit of all Canadians, or the small handful of art intelligentia who see something more than a big red canvas?

No, I don't think most artists or art critics/theorists/etc. are writing off those who disagree with them as philistines or idiots. Perhaps the odd one, but you are attributing the attitude of a small minority to the arts community at large.

Now to get all picky about the details about Voice of Fire in particular, it isn't just a big, red canvas. One of the elements of the work itself is scale, which is not easily translated into a photograph, so it is an easy target.

quote:
And besides, you're focusing on a very few artworks -- and besides II, who's to say that the whole "Voice of Fire" and "meat dress" hullaballoos didn't attract some people who'd never have gone otherwise?

For the most part, publicity is good when it's free... And yes, I believe notoriety probably increased numbers to the gallery to some degree. It certainly helps raise awareness of controversial screenings we've had here when the Saskatchewan Party freaks out over them. More publicity than we could possibly afford, otherwise.

quote:
You know what I also think isn't art? That porno movie that Cretin and the Lie-berals gave all that money to.

OMG, I hadn't thought about that for a long while... That was quite the long-term panic in the national filmmaking community. It was still a topic of panel discussions for years afterwards. Canada Council sure took a drubbing on that one.


From: Urban prairie. | Registered: Sep 2001  |  IP: Logged
Timebandit
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posted 29 July 2003 04:20 PM      Profile for Timebandit     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Well, for what it's worth, I was just thinking of notable examples of art that clearly didn't do much for the people who paid for it. I actually thought "Meat Dress" was kind of interesting, myself.

Is that really the case?

I tend to disagree with you on that score -- They both caused big reactions and got people talking about meaning, the nature of art, what is and is not art, what is and is not acceptable... And look, we're discussing it right now.

I think those works did something quite significant.

[ 29 July 2003: Message edited by: Zoot Capri ]


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Mandos
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posted 29 July 2003 04:35 PM      Profile for Mandos   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Hmm. I haven't been to the art gallery in a while, and I work in walking distance of it. Really I'm a performing snobby-arts person...I go to the opera and orchestra much more often than I look at paintings and sculptures, despite the fact that the painting are cheaper to visit.

But back on topic. Hmm, this used to be one of my favorite topics. Ultimately, the question boils down to this:

Given that public art galleries are funded by the public purse, the art galleries are ultimately responsible to the public. Then there must be a standard by which art purchases, depending on the cost, can be said to be serving the public or ill-serving the public. What is that standard?

I suspect that the answer will be most damaging, ultimately, to the experimental visual artist. Because the public generally doesn't feel well-served by art whose point it doesn't understand, especially when the expense is large.

This raises a deeper (and more interesting) question of the content of art itself. It has been said here that half of what is brought to the art is brought by the viewers. But what if the reaction of the viewer is incomprehension? A feeling of exclusion? If every reaction justifies the art, then we have no way of valuing art at al.

It was that very feeling of exclusion of most of the public that allows these sorts of attacks on visual art and artists. And whose fault is that?

I saw Voice of Fire in person. It didn't do anything for me at all. Nothing else in that room did either. Maybe I was too young at the time...but I'm still not all that enthused about visual art galleries. Just being honest.


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Mandos
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posted 29 July 2003 04:37 PM      Profile for Mandos   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
But that we are talking about it doesn't necessarily itself justify the purchase. Then we can declare that all things are justified because we talk about them...
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Mr. Magoo
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posted 29 July 2003 04:52 PM      Profile for Mr. Magoo   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I certainly don't think it all needs to be a big ol' popularity contest at all... or else all that we'd ever consider "art" would be paintings of wolves by Robert Bateman. Or dogs playing poker perhaps. But I think that the swing of that pendulum is just as bad or worse. If anything made by a self-proclaimed artist is, by association, art, and if we cannot place any kind of social value on it, then who's to say that my ratty old comb shouldn't be worth a million dollars too? What? My ratty old comb doesn't "speak to you?" Well, maybe you just don't get it!

I know it's trs chic to be PoMo about art, and that's fine if you're just a collector or a fancier, but if you're spending a finite amount of money that could also have been spent on schoolbooks - or for that matter art supplies - then I think there's some merit in searching for something with some broad appeal on some level. Whatever the art world may think of it, Canadians on the whole were not ready to see a large, 3 coloured piece of canvas that cost 50 years of their salary.

Zoot: I once took an elective in experimental film. Theory, not practice. Ever seen a Stan Brakhage film? Hooboy. Some were interesting, but some were, to me, just so much paint on a cel. I had the privelege of being taught by one of the foremost experts on Brakhage and experimental film, Bruce Elder. While I don't doubt that he's really the genius they say he is, most of what he talked about was so nebulous and so esoteric and ultimately so unbound to the moving blobs of paint that we screened as to be of no use to me. It was almost like he was reading a Dadaist novel. Now for the 4th year experimental film grads, Bruce Elder was like unto a god. But they were a pretty tiny and insulated little group and they were the sole target of the lectures. The rest of us were pretty much out in the cold. Insofar as we were all fairly bright bulbs, I think that the films could have been discussed at a level, and in such a way, as to attach to what we already knew and understood, but they weren't - purposefully. I just think that art doesn't need to be like that.


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ronb
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posted 29 July 2003 05:16 PM      Profile for ronb     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Ryerson alum eh? I was taught by Bruce Elder as well. Suffice it to say we had different experiences. I never noticed him being elitist or deliberately confusing in the least. Jim Kelly was, absolutely, but that's 'cause he had no clue what the hell he was talking about.

So if you don't get it, it's crap? Pardon my asking, do you work at the Ontario Film Review Board?


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Mr. Magoo
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posted 29 July 2003 05:26 PM      Profile for Mr. Magoo   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
So if you don't get it, it's crap?

Well, better than "if I don't get it, I'm crap".

My point is, he's a teacher. If he sees 18 pairs of glazed over eyes staring at him, and 3 pairs of intent ones, he's not supposed to turn the abstract up. A good teacher doesn't focus on the 3 that are getting it, they focus on the rest that don't.


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Timebandit
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posted 30 July 2003 01:09 AM      Profile for Timebandit     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Ever seen a Stan Brakhage film? Hooboy. Some were interesting, but some were, to me, just so much paint on a cel.

Of course I've seen Brakhage's work. Even out here in the sticks we know who the major groundbreakers were.

Now, I may not watch Brakhage all the time just for fun, nor do I experiment along the lines that Brakhage did -- I tend to work more with playing with narrative than eliminating it. But I still can look at his work and acknowledge that it is groundbreaking, that he made some strides that changed filmmaking as we knew it and that has value. Often extreme experimentalists (and this can be applied to any media or art form) come up with methods that change the way the mainstream operates.

quote:
I had the privelege of being taught by one of the foremost experts on Brakhage and experimental film, Bruce Elder. While I don't doubt that he's really the genius they say he is, most of what he talked about was so nebulous and so esoteric and ultimately so unbound to the moving blobs of paint that we screened as to be of no use to me. It was almost like he was reading a Dadaist novel. Now for the 4th year experimental film grads, Bruce Elder was like unto a god. But they were a pretty tiny and insulated little group and they were the sole target of the lectures. The rest of us were pretty much out in the cold. Insofar as we were all fairly bright bulbs, I think that the films could have been discussed at a level, and in such a way, as to attach to what we already knew and understood, but they weren't - purposefully.

I have to say I have never been overly impressed with Elder's work. Not my cup of tea, but there are many other people I know and respect personally and professionally who think he's brilliant. As a professor, I couldn't say whether he's inclusive or not.

But I really think, once you move into the level of a university class, that you are comparing apples and oranges. You aren't just passing through a gallery -- you're there to be educated on the subject. I have often found that students expect to be handed understanding, when maybe the idea, especially at the level where you're in a class with 4th yr majors, you might have to work at understanding it. Was it the films you didn't understand, or the professor? Professors aren't supposed to be "teachers", exactly. Often, with somebody like Elder, their primary focus is as a filmmaker/researcher/etc. And I don't think you need to "understand" a film to have a reaction to it.

Anyway, you are talking about "art" and your exposure to it in a completely different context here, and I don't think it supports your point very well.

quote:
Hmm. I haven't been to the art gallery in a while, and I work in walking distance of it. Really I'm a performing snobby-arts person...I go to the opera and orchestra much more often than I look at paintings and sculptures, despite the fact that the painting are cheaper to visit.

I don't see this as being so very far removed from the visual arts, Mandos. Opera and performing arts are also supported by government funds, and I think there are as many people out there who do not feel any less alienated by opera than certain paintings, nor do they feel any better served. And certainly, experimentalists in music break ground as much as experimentalists do in any other art form.

[ 30 July 2003: Message edited by: Zoot Capri ]


From: Urban prairie. | Registered: Sep 2001  |  IP: Logged
DrConway
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posted 30 July 2003 01:24 AM      Profile for DrConway     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
People may claim that artists don't look down their noses at people who question the value of art in general, but I've noticed that even questioning the Voice of Fire purchase seems to automatically make one a Philistine.
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nonsuch
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posted 30 July 2003 02:45 AM      Profile for nonsuch     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
There are two completely different questions here - or maybe a dozen.

What is art? Who decides? On what basis? What's it worth in $ terms? Who should buy it with whose money on whose say-so?

To the original question: No. It doesn't matter. It's a byproduct of human life. It doesn't change anything; it just makes people - some people, sometimes - more aware of their world, internal and external.

To the incidental questions: We each have an opinion, sometimes a very strong opinion, which means that we care, and we often don't even know why we care. I mean, compared to the astronomical sums our government wastes on far more harmful things, why such a kerfuffle over a single picture? So i guess it does matter, emotionally.


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