Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Camille Paglia Needs To Get Out More

When you live on an island, it is easy to think that the world ends at the shoreline--particularly when that island is named Manhattan.

A week and a half ago, Camille Paglia wrote an opinion piece in one of that island's local newspapers.

With a title like "How Capitalism Can Save Art" Ms. Paglia piques the interest

Ms. Paglia cites a decline in the visual arts, particularly painting since the 1970s. She goes on to state that the avant-garde is dead while citing execrable installations masquerading as art. If that is what art is, then art is dead. She further laments the fact that in recent years young people have become disconnected from the manual trades, and thus lack the technique to pull off artistic expressions.

This is contradicted by the "Maker Movement" something you can see on display if you pick up an issue of Make magazine or haunt any of the "hacker spaces" popping up across the country. I think her observation is correct--as far as it goes.

True, today's kids are not going to get summer jobs in shoe factories or learn about steel making from besooted parents--unless those parents are artisans making hand-made shoes or smelting metal in backyard forges.

As technology creates new forms of expression old forms don't necessarily die so much as become art forms--like the blacksmith I watched on Nova last night forging a Viking sword in his shop in Door county Wisconsin.

Blacksmithing is art? It's more art than taking snaps of a crucifix in a jar of urine.

There is a limited amount of creativity in the world and there are many more modes of creative expression than smearing paint (or feces) on canvas. Perhaps this generation's Pollock or Mondrian are happily building fire-breathing dragons to drive around Burning Man.

I've said elsewhere that rich people can be stupid, filling museums with overrated junk and in so doing they are disclosing a naked-emperor groupthink unmatched by anything except perhaps the Obama presidency.

I don't think my hometown's billionaire is stupid, because he started ArtPrize a few years ago. Art experts squealed like pigs that the prize would be awarded on the basis of popular vote instead of expert judgement. Indeed. By crowd-sourcing art evaluation as was done with ArtPrize entries, art experts can be disintermediated.

Dangling a quarter-million dollar prize in front of the public caused a lot of talented people to think about what sort of art they could produce. And--for better or worse--they manifested a diverse spectrum of creativity as I've describe elsewhere. But don't take my word for any of this, look at this year's winners for yourself. The 2nd and 3rd prize winners are illustrative of this diversity of creativity: in the former case, hundreds of little robotic birds danced and flew about the room in a dazzling show of technology, while in the latter case, the artist put paint on canvas in a way that would please the Dutch masters of old.

The two trends both falsify and confirm Ms. Paglia's thesis.

First, the maker movement gets creative people back in touch with the hands-on matter of making thing. And they're spreading their creativity across a broad spectrum of artistic expression as they design circuits and software to create new forms of beauty while mastering techniques unimaginable a generation ago. I believe Ms. Paglia is no farther than a subway ride from some of the preeminent hacker spaces in the country. Are these folks capitalists? Maybe in an Etsy.com sort of way.

Second, by bringing hundreds of visitors to the Grand Rapids downtown area, the ArtPrize organizers have brought a lot of business to restaurants, coffee shops, and bars. ArtPrize is capitalist. It is as capitalistic a happening as an Amway presentation. Art may be dead in Manhattan, but it's alive each autumn in Grand Rapids, MI.

So, Ms. Paglia, if you want to see art that is not dead, look in Brooklyn for a hacker space. And if that doesn't satisfy, drop by Grand Rapids next fall.

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