Sunday, January 18, 2009

Art is long

" Life is short but Art is long" - as some ancient Greek said once. This has been taken many ways but one way of looking at the meaning is that while a man (or woman- I am not being sexist here) dies, his art (skill, knowledge) can live on beyond him and others build on the work of those before.

The artist Wyeth died the other day:

The son of famed painter and book illustrator N.C. Wyeth, Andrew Wyeth gained wealth, acclaim and tremendous popularity. But he chafed under criticism from some experts who regarded him as a facile realist, not an artist but merely an illustrator.

He is not the first artist who is looked down upon because a) he is a realist and b) he is popular.

Some critics dismissed Wyeth's art as that of a mere “regionalist.” Art critic Hilton Kramer was even more direct, once saying, “In my opinion, he can't paint.”

The late J. Carter Brown, who was for many years director of the National Gallery, called such talk “a knee-jerk reaction among intellectuals in this country that if it's popular, it can't be good.”

I can think of Canadian instances- Bateman and Danby for example. Colville may have escaped the sneer but there is this bias, especially recently, for more modern, experiential stuff.

Like this Montreal exhibit which I read about in the Globe and Mail yesterday morning, the same day as the article on Wyeth.

It's one of the few times passing gas in a public presentation probably got murmurs and nods of approval from anybody but the most sophomoric.

But Cloaca No. 5, a mechanized sculpture that reproduces the human digestive system in every stomach-churning detail, gave a little hiss and launched a nose-wrinkling sulphuric barrage a few times yesterday as creator Wim Delvoye explained his creative process.

Cloaca, a towering steel, rubber and glass contraption, is fed twice a day with cafeteria leftovers during the exhibit, which opened Thursday and runs until Valentine's Day at the Université du Québec's art gallery in Montreal.

It processes the food - which includes the Quebec favourite, poutine - and then poops once a day.

"Let's make a bet. Which artist's name and works will be remembered 50 years after his death?

Mr. Delvoye described Cloaca as a reflection on human identity and the creative process.

"It's about all of us," the Belgian artist said in an interview.

But is it art?

"I think it's art as long as it's in an art museum," Mr. Delvoye said. "If it's in a garage, it's an interesting machine."

The artist said he wanted to make something that was "absurdly unnecessary" and drew inspiration from Charlie Chaplin, oddball cartoonist Rube Goldberg's elaborate and goofy machines, and Willy Wonka and his chocolate factory. ...

And which one was better value for money? Wyeth's Christina's World apparently was originally bought for $1,800.

Laval resident Clemence Bernard wrote to Montreal La Presse, saying she is "revolted" by the exhibit, which she called a "waste of $35,000 of taxpayer money."

But Louise Dery, the director of the university gallery, said it was $30,000 that came out of a Canada Council fund for exchanges of contemporary art. The money is being used to cover shipping costs.

I'm going to go with Wyeth. How about you?

1 comment:

mamie said...

Me too! Amen.

Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong;
And I am Marie of Romania.
Dorothy Parker, Not So Deep as a Well (1937)