Art is Stuff ...and Stuff Happens

This stuff doesn’t happen on its own. Somebody must create it. Art is the product of conscious action. But art cannot be considered ‘art’…until it is named. It must be called ‘art.’ And it seems today that regardless of the number of dissenters from that designation, if one person decides that something is art – it’s art, dammit. End of discussion. For to impugn its veracity would be to malign someone’s character. It might even get you called ‘racist.’ To tell an artist that what he or she has produced is not ‘art’ would be spewing hate speech just as though you’d burned a cross on their lawn or dipped a crucifix in urine. (Oh wait…that’s been done. And come to think of it…that was called art. Ahhh…I am beginning to see many disparities and conflicts in the rational line here.)

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Help me along -- I am apparently a bit slow. Something is ‘art’ if the ‘artist’ says it is art. Even if the viewer of said art is highly offended and appalled by this so-called art. Then it’s his or her problem… get over it…go back to Wasilla and blow up a moose.

But should you dare suggest that it might not be the best use of public funds to bankroll exhibitions that the majority of Americans consider to be highly offensive and even pornographic -- well…then you obviously must be a hate-filled, intolerant, racist homophobe, and you are to be minimalized as a right-wing fringe kook.

Oh, I see… The artist is to be given free latitude to explore the limits of his or her creativity without the stifling puritan sensibilities that close-minded conservative crackpots constantly try to place upon them. After all, the ‘artist’ is above reproach. The artist resides in the ivory tower of high aspirations, dontcha know. They lift mankind up to a loftier vision of the possibilities of man, careless of where their heightened genius will take them. They’re only the messenger of this Higher Vision that chooses none but the special people, (like themselves, the artiste), through which to speak to the world. And they don’t want money for their genius contributions to the betterment of society, oh no. (Or so they proclaim…as they lobby for and receive huge government grants and subsidies for their ‘art’.)

They are the self-Chosen Ones…smarter, more enlightened, brimming with brightness, and sweeter smelling than the rest of us mere mortals. They deign to move about and amongst us, only by their generous beneficence. They and they alone are the true Givers in our sad and squalid society. They are the signposts that point us in the correct direction as we silly little peons putter about our sad, pathetic lives, hoping beyond hope that we can actually get along without their inspired and beatific counseling. They have built crystalline cathedrals of ego dedicated to their shining self images of magnificence and human exaltation, their exaltation and nobility of … The Artist.

I love it. You don’t have to go to school. You don’t have to gain a degree. You don’t have to work for any length of time at anything, really. All you have to do to be an artist…is call yourself an ‘artist’. I could glue some petrified dog-poo to a board, swipe it with blue spray paint, hold it up high -- and some doodle-weed would call it ‘art’.

Which is fine! I have no problem with that. Throw monkey snot on the wall, frame it and call it whatever you want. Just don’t make John Q. Public to pay for it!

FTS!

Having been a member of the film community for over thirty years…and considered by a few (close family members) to be somewhat of an actual ‘artist’ myself, I speak with a modicum of authority on this issue. The level of merit (or the lack thereof) of my particular brand of ‘art’ is a debate for another time. Suffice it to say that I have been firmly ensconced in the Los Angeles artistic community for the better part of my life... and I know a few things.

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First off – there’s a ton of bullshit calling itself art out there.

I know – I’ve made a lot of it. And the copious amounts of energy propping up the “it’s art!” illusion…well…that’s a whole industry unto itself. And that rubs us up against one favorite saying of mine; in fact I think I coined it: “Just because you say it’s ‘art’ – don’t mean dick.”

Now… I apologize for that. Not for the vulgarity, but for the poor grammar. (But it’s funnier with poor grammar, so there it is.)

And let me say that I have nothing against art, or even the worldwide community of artists. In fact, I am a great lover of art. But I’m also realistic enough to accept that my definition of what art is and what it is not and your definition of same are very likely, at the end of the day, quite different. We will probably agree on some -- and vehemently come to odds over others. Because no two tastes are alike. What is art to me might be dog-poo to you. And vice versa. That’s cool, to each his own.

And in a free market, this works out just fine. The struggling artist on the sidewalk displays his wares -- and as I walk by, my eye catches a particular painting that speaks to me. I am drawn closer and stare at it in fascination. Something about the texture in his brush strokes, or how he played with the light glinting off the ocean…or the posture of the old woman, say, and how it spoke to me of human resiliency and hope…and suddenly I had to have the painting. We strike a quick bargain; the artist receives my cash happily and I walk away with a piece of art that moves me in some positive way.

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Or I’ll be spending a lovely day at Venice Beach, having lunch at my favorite sidewalk café …and a street performer will suddenly break into a hilariously annoying comedy mime act, preying on hapless passersby, to everyone’s delight and amusement. He charmingly passes the hat, collects his tips, makes us laugh some more and we are literally throwing cash at him, so grateful for the brief show. His performance art was offered freely, and we enjoyed it, and many of us chose to support his craft and give him money. This talented street artist cleans up, and everyone walks away happy.

The above scenarios happen to me all the time. And this is how art is supported in a free and rational society. Voluntarily. By free choice.

It is not a free and rational act to form an institution that hires ‘artists’ of varying degrees of talent (and possibly dubious and questionable motives), paid for by dollars taken from taxpayers who have no say as how those dollars are spent.

One word: Maplethorpe.

Not to speak ill of the departed, but it wasn’t just homo-erotica and such exhibits, which included photos of bullwhips inserted in a man’s anus (all funded by the National Endowment for the Arts), that brought this ‘artist’ to fame; it was also a quaint little speciality called ‘Coprophagia -- in which he displayed photographs of various insects consuming animal feces.

Lovely. Your hard-earned tax dollars at work. (Hey – Art happens!)

And you know what? I don’t even have a problem with people calling that ‘art’. If they want to pay for photographs of flies eating poo, fine. Not a problem.

But when you and I and my friends and neighbors are forced to pay for that -- then I have a huge problem with it!

Art is probably the most subjective form of human expression imaginable, and as such -- Art should not be subsidized by the government. Either art is free – or it’s a business. And if it’s a business, it should be run like a business, in which goods and/or services are offered in a free market and citizens have the option of purchasing said goods and services – or walking away. This is just common sense; and I can hardly believe in this supposed age of enlightenment that this is even a controversial notion.

Art is a business. And government has no business forcing us to pay for any of that business.

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