Sunday, April 24, 2011

Art - what is it good for?

Art, a snapshot of a culture. Not only the art created but the art that survives tells a lot about the impression a culture wishes to leave to history. Art has to be especially scary in authoritarian times, it requires imagination to create and provokes emotion when viewed. Luckily it's very easy to denigrate.

The first art controversy I remember is when the Canadian government purchase a piece of art for the national museum that consisted of 3 stripes. Oh the outrage over the photograph of the painting. What a waste of money. I, jumped on that band wagon as well. Really, even I can create 3 stripes of colour and I'm no expert but I know what I like. Fast forward a couple decades; I went to an exhibition and spent most of my time standing in front of a white canvas. If photographed it would look like a polar bear beside an igloo in a blizzard. In reality there was an amazing display of texture and pattern impressed on that white canvas. I haven't seen the 3 stripes but I can appreciate that if I did, they would speak to me the same way.

The first time an exhibit really made an impact on me was when I went to see The Castration of St. Paul. A friend said we should go see it while it was on campus. I wasn't much interested in going to see photos of 30 male groins but I went anyway. I thought I would walk through unaffected, perhaps a little embarrassed, but the photographic style was very effective and the shear numbers emphasised the tradition of patriarchy entrenched in religious authority. And that any male midriffs could stand in for any saint worth noting, well you know who the important ones are.

Piss Christ, created a few years before the Castration of St. Paul exhibit, was irreparably damaged this month by a religious mob while on display in France. A Christian's ambiguous comment on the cheapening of religious icons has been destroyed at a time when religion is openly being used to get people to toe an authoritarian line of an earlier age. Had the artist not named the piece Piss Christ, one would simply marvel at the lighting that created an unearthly glow that reflects the holiness of Jesus. If only religious adherents had matured enough to see the irony of their protest.

I wish I could have seen this exhibit. A small image on a computer screen is compelling, I can only imagine the effect of the 60x40 inch work.