New Century, Old Value

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I was thinking about a Buster Brown comic in which Buster helps a tramp. In this strip, he allows the man into his home, providing him with his father’s bathroom and attire. The comedy begins when his mother, mistakes the man for her husband and embraces him from behind.

BusterBrown_HomelessGuy

As expected of his character, Buster is corporally punished off-panel and “resolves” his lesson:

That a tramp is not a victim of hard luck nor fate nor ill fortune. He is just a the effect of a cause. Selfishness and filth, disease, and poverty, the result. A bad effect never came from a good cause. If you do right you’ll be right, if you do wrong you’ll get the worst of it. No man ever got wheat who planted weeds. Laziness is a mental disease. All action must first be a thought. If you are 2 lazy to think, you can’t act. If you don’t excersize your brain, it will grow useless. Don’t let the doctor, the orator, the lawyer, the newspaper, do your thinking for you. You smile at the child who believes in Santa Claus while you believe worse piffle. God gave you the brains to think with.

Ouch. Dickensian, ain’t it?

The world at the time of this strip was only 3 years out of the Victorian era (despite being the Rooseveltian US), so the “bootstraps” mentality is not a huge surprise. To a 21st century reader, Buster’s heart was in the right place, especially since most modern employment requires decent hygiene unavailable to many homeless who are seeking work. His only mistake was allowing a stranger into his home who could have at worst murdered him and his mother.

Unfortunately, understanding such a danger is not a lesson he learns. In short, the Browns teach Buster that providing any kind of charitable resources to an impoverished person is bad. Sadly though, the series (as far as I’m aware), Mr. and Mrs. Brown have never been shown supporting charity events or donating to soup kitchens or orphanages. Buster is the closest of the Brown family to show any sense of egalitarianism by inviting working-class boys into his home occasionally, and he just wants to show off his Christmas tree.

BusterBrown_poorboys

The Browns are NOT looking forward to his teenage years.

What relieves me a bit is that R.F. Outcault, who created the more working-class sympathetic Yellow Kid series prior in his career, only created Buster Brown to appeal to the WASP elite readers of NYC at the time. Regardless of class differences, one expects to see reminders of how values have changed. What worries me are members of today’s affluent class in the US who, after learning about the Great Depression in their schools, would read Buster’s resolution and yet somehow fully agree. Funny how times never change.

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It’s Okay To Not “Get” Art

“Gallery Ladies” by Roy Zalesky

Vice’s Glen Coco earns my respect for his honesty. In one of his articles, he visited a rather pretentious-feeling gallery in London and mocked every work on display, only to attract a British art student named Alex who felt the need to “explain” the works to him. (Somehow Alex missed the part of the article that revealed Glen was a fellow art student.) Alex’s response confirmed the fallacies Glen suggested in the initial article: that true art is deep, only fake art is popular, and if you don’t already know what the artist was thinking, then you are a moron.

In this day of an ever impending idiocracy, I am aware of the growing population of proud ignoramuses, but this is not the case. Let’s take a scenario I’ve seen too often: Someone whose upbringing had limited their access or encouragement of pursuing arts until now, yet they decide to attend an art gallery to expand their interests. Said individual tries to break the ice with more cultured patrons in an effort learn more. They inadvertently say something that reveals their lack of education, only to be stealthily mocked by the more educated patrons. Humiliated, they never return to the museum again. Like a library, a museum is one of the few centers of free thought left. There is no place for snobbery and caste behavior. Every expression of “I don’t get it” is as valid as every overanalysis that goes over the former’s heads.

This example does not mean laymen are blame-free or that Art communities are fully responsible. There are mutual misunderstandings that are resolvable.

Part 1: Misconceptions from the laymen

Honestly, the one aspect of a lot of art can be explained in the historical context of certain works, which anyone can learn in a lecture, a community college class, or online on Khan Academy. Obviously, Art has evolved over time and due to this nature many works suffer from the “Simpsons is not funny” phenomenon. For an example, Jackson Pollock’s works were so groundbreaking because they were the first of their kind. Today, like the Simpsons in a 2010 television landscape, Pollock’s studies now get lost in the sea of works that have been influenced by his own. Naturally, anyone jaded by the influences would find the original just as awful without context. The Art people have the most issue with Contemporary Art is a result of everything that has come and gone in the last 400 years.

     Most contemporary pieces require explanation due to their overly symbolic and intra-referential nature. That’s where the Artist’s Statement comes in. Though it should be noted that a part of art’s subjectiveness lies in the fact that many interpretations are developed from one work. Some gain no interpretation at all. Unless the artist had a specific message in mind, no person is more right than the other.

Part 2: Misconceptions from the Artists

Based on his analyses, what Alex does not seems to think all artworks automatically come with a message, which is far from the truth. There are a lot of appreciated artists throughout history who created works that had no political or social message. Henri Toulouse-Lautrec and Tamara De Lempicka are two favorite examples of mine. The strangest thing is while the former is often praised by art professors, the latter is shunned. Interestingly, De Lempicka still gets her works reproduced onto towels and tote bags like Lautrec all the same. What makes him more legitimate in the art world than her?

220px-Photolautrec

Alcoholic? Check! Died young? Check! Died penniless? Nope. Guess he’s only 2/3rds of a “true” artist!

On a grander scale, a lot of people get their impression of the art world from the what wealthy art committees present. Throughout history, these trend-setters select art to be promoted, exposing the average museum-goer to a certain “type” of artwork and coloring their perception of art forever. This is not new, and neither are the challenges to their criteria. Many of the artists discussed in art schools today were once rejected by their contemporary art societies. Artists like Cezanne, Picasso, Marcel Duchamp, (or as I like to call him “the greatest Art Troll in history”.) The same behavior continued towards graffiti, folk art, comic art, and digital illustration and will with any new art movement. Sadly, the laymen think they have to fit into the criteria to be a true artist. Many Artists fall for it too.

In reality, a lot of art produced doesn’t have a meaning. It’s just the result of a wacky, creative mind.

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Yes. A baby Tornado. At Elsewhere Museum in Greensboro, NC

I speculate that the artists who openly admit that fact are rarely seen in high profile museums. The ones who do often make one up to appease the stereotypes of the trendy art elite. A lot of artists ignored by this “elite” nowadays promote their work in galleries, coffee shops, breweries, non-profit art spaces, art festivals and outdoor art shows. You get much more of a variety of ideas and creators.

Conclusion

The “Laws” of Art has been in changing and continues to change. Artists will always continue to debate what is and isn’t “art”. If both sides want to survive into digital age they will have to change how they see the other side.