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Lesson Plans

Romanticising art

[ Thread ][ Subject ][ Author ][ Date ]
Sat, 1 Jun 1996 00:11:57 -0500 (CDT)

Joanne Snyder makes some interesting comments about the state of the
American art scene. Henry provides some extremely valid responses and
Sandra Hildreth, as usual, raises some points I grapple with every year: how
to "explain" to students about the prices of various artworks, especially
Minimalist and Conceptual pieces. (This is definitely an area in which I
would benefit from input by this group.) In my eighth grade aesthetics and
criticism unit, we discuss this at length. We view a Murphy Brown episode
and a Sixty Minutes segment which are both very apt, but long before this
unit, (usually the year before, when I introduce Malevitch's "White on
White") the students begin to question why certain works are so expensive.
(Lively discussions can be had on the difference between "expensive" and
"valuable".) It's interesting that the questions rarely start before the
introduction of 20th Century art, which leads me to the point I would like
to add to this discussion. I think it is very important to look at things -
values, civil rights, the state of the art world, etc. - in historical
terms. It may not solve a problem or right a wrong, but it can frequently
make us a little more optomistic when we see how far (in some cases) we have
come. The American art scene which Joanne describes, if indeed it is an
accurate description, is no different than any other time in history. Before
the middle of the last century, we would not have even had this discussion.
Of course, there were disgruntled artists who were not accepted by their
various academies, but there would have been far more general agreement
about what constituted "art". The idea of "art for art's sake" is
incredibly modern. Art has ALWAYS been commercial - IT SERVED THE PURPOSES
OF THE PATRON: in earliest times, the clan elders used it to help
enculturate the young and appease the spirits; later, it glorified the ruler
or helped his/her subjects achieve an afterlife; it made visible the ethos
of the state or its belief system; it was a labor of religeous dedication;
it recorded history as the "winners" wanted it remembered; it created
prestige for those wealthy enough to afford it. In many cultures - Ancient
Egypt, China, Japan, certain African tribes, Medieval Europe - too much
innovation was undesirable and actively discouraged. Throughout history,
with the exception of certain Tribal and Folk arts, the artist's
self-expression generally took second place to the patron's wishes and even
in those exceptions, cultural styles dominated. Only very recently in the
vast history of art do we have the image of an artist such as Van Gogh:
committed to a totally unsalable artform. If earlier artists failed, it was
because they were generally perceived as being inferior, not avant-garde.
And as for women artists, while there were several prominent females in the
past, I'll definitely take being a woman artist in the USA in the 90's over
virtually any other time or place in history. Unlike Joanne, I think
today's art world is incredibly wide open. Perhaps, indeed, TOO wide open.
While I will agree that our culture is extremely commercial, it is also
willing to accept virtually ANYTHING as art. That could be a result of a
wish to make a canny investment; but it may also be an "Emperor's New
Clothes" syndrome: no one wants to appear artistically illiterate or
parochial. (Also, the terms "discipline" and "judgement" have unfortunately
taken on distinctly negative connotations in recent years.) I see
absolutely nothing wrong with a gallery rejecting work that is unlikely to
sell. Most art galleries are businesses. However, we have several venues
here which do not care if you "sell" - they are run by arts centers or
community centers or civic centers, etc. And if such places exist in
Indianapolis, Indiana, they must exist elsewhere as well. Personally, I
think we've come a long way - after all, in Medieval times, an "artist" was
a guy who helped a woman with her make-up.

Eileen Prince
Sycamore School