Art Comment Quarterly
Eoin's Aphorisms and Exhortations for the Artist - No. 2
Variations on a Theme Exhibition Series: The Nude
The above aphorism leads nicely to the subject of the nude. Classic, timeless, elemental, primal, universal: all these adjectives apply to the nude. As we all are creatures of our own nakedness, it is the subject of ultimate empathy. And yet in the hands of an artist, that fleeting, imperfect, and fragile package that carries all of our souls gains a noble immortality and perfection that transcends its mere physicality.
Please take a moment to view the nudes at the online exhibition Variations on a Theme Exhibition Series: The Nude.
Poll Results: A Question of Social Responsibilities for ArtistsArt Comment is presently being sent to about 10,000 people involved in all aspects of art: academics, galleries, collectors, media, artists, architects, arts organisations, and art lovers around the world.
In the Autumn Issue 2002 of Art Quarterly we asked the question:
"Does Art have a responsibility to conform to social norms or should it be a cherished arena for freedom of expression?"
The results are given below:
72% voted: Artists do have a responsibility to respect social norms and sensibilities.
28% voted: Artists should exercise total freedom of expression.
Being a complex question, it is not surprising that many respondents replied with extensive and thoughtful comments. We are very grateful for your thoughts and the large response, but of course, we cannot report them all here, so we quote only a few:
D. M. writes: "I teach art in an inner-city public school and find there is a lack of respect for one another. I see a very selfish generation that reflects past generations - but it is more violent and hateful. Art doesn't have to be a pretty picture and should be used as a communication tool. But what you communicate to the audience may be pro-hate instead of just an opinion. In short, it is the artist's responsibility. We have a blessed gift to convey, create, and entertain. Use your talents wisely."
M. C. writes: "I am in no way in favour of the kind of censorship you
describe. Of course artists should be free to comment in whatever way is appropriate for their needs. However one of the circumstances you cite is also an act of terror, so why do you describe the person who perpetrated it as an artist? We are in the unfortunate situation where young artists can see careers being built on work which has a shock value. At the same
time art schools are not teaching the value of learning from nature - something that I believe is vital for a visual artist whatever their avenue of expression. This is not surprising, it merely reflects the refusal of the whole of our social, scientific, and commercial structure to learn from nature, the greatest teacher."
A. C. of the Spoon Cafe Gallery, England writes: "There isn't a simple answer to the question (when is there?) - I think the key to the whole thing is not to allow one person's self-expression to violate another's rights. In the case of the mailbomber, people who had not chosen to participate in the performance piece where caused injury and distress by the artist, this was not an acceptable form of self expression as those people had no choice whether to participate. In the case of an artist breaking taboos - whether sexual, religious, race etc - within a gallery environment, where visitors are warned that there may be explicit content, I have no problem with that. In fact I think its part of the artists duty to break these taboos. I find it more shocking myself that the mayor of a multi-cultural city such as New York has a problem with the Virgin Mary being depicted as black - she was almost certainly a great deal darker skinned that she's normally depicted in western iconography. As for the students re-enacting a suicide bombing, it would depend on the context and the content. I would imagine that this was a pretty serious comment on a situation which effects the lives of these people on a daily basis, and they'd have every right to comment on it. Again, in the right setting only those who had been warned of the content would get to see such as piece, and without the input of the sensationalist media most people would never even get to hear about such works, and would therefore avoid offence. Its funny how the mass media only ever shows an interest in the arts when the content is shocking, controversial or taboo breaking - is it any wonder that young artists turn to shock tactics to get attention?"
Fred Ross, Chairman, Art Renewal Center writes: "Yes, but as always common sense must be used. No blanket philosophy either way really works in all circumstances.
If social norms and sensibilities are too narrowly wrapped, then being
attentive to them can really close off freedom of expression, as in Nazi
Germany or Saudi Arabia today. But in the USA in 2002, there is so little that's left, that the only way to shock norms and sensibilities is with bloody tampons - that's no longer expression. It's offensiveness for its own sake. Common sense says that at this place and at this time, its time for art to apply itself to real subject matter....the taboos that we have left are needed. Otherwise the next step will be murder, as performance art, as your article pointed out.
K. H. writes: "Again we run into the problem of using the excluded middle as a guide to life rather than a convenience in logic. To put it simply, artists should respect other people and their value but certainly not blindly follow conventions that only serve to mask that value or render it impotent. All the instances referred to have little or nothing to do with art but are simply means (by now hopelessly cliched means) of self-promotion. Certainly artists have the right to produce sensationalist junk just as the National Enquirer has the right to publish it but artists cannot claim to lead society or even fill a valid role if their own value system is no different from that of an Enron executive. Absolute freedom of expression is mere license, ultimately inert and inconsequential, and available to any four-year-old. The art to aim for creates value through identity-it may be rare and difficult but it has power."
H. H. writes: "I have a few paintings in my portfolio that offend some people. They have the option to NOT view those paintings if they so choose. However they often feel the need to censor these paintings so that no one can enjoy them."
"Whether it is Christmas, Hanukkah, Eid, or whatever form of winter solstice celebration you observe, all the staff at ArtVitae.com wish you all tolerance, charity, understanding, and good will during this holiday season."
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