Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Rainey Knudson: "Art is not politics . . . . It's not anything except an echo of nature, which is to say it's chaotic."

Rainey Knudson

Finally, someone who believes in free speech! Writing for Glasstire, Rainey Knudson comes out for free expression in her article "The Best Defense is Good Offensiveness" (December 6, 2015):
[V]iewed in the context of the latest round of culture wars, . . . observations on the traditional oppressors of sartorial freedom . . . could also be applied to many so-called progressives. We have entered a time of rigid orthodoxy for some people on both the right and the left regarding what is acceptable to say, wear, and even think. [Yes,] I’m referring to political correctness, and its main bugaboo, offensiveness . . . . [M]any people seem to be more hung up on the aesthetics of correctness and offense than ever. When academics and journalists incorrectly assert that the First Amendment doesn't protect hate speech; or when students at Amherst College write that they want other students who have posted "ALL LIVES MATTER" posters to undergo "extensive training for racial and cultural competency," political correctness of the left begins to uncomfortably evoke other well-meaning uprisings against oppression that converted into their own reigns of terror . . . . Thankfully, the art world is rife with offensive material . . . . [even if some of it still gets censored, such as] the more recent removal of David Wojnarowicz’s video A Fire in My Belly from a 2010 exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, because a clip of ants crawling over a crucifix made Rush Limbaugh crazy . . . . But religion - well, Christianity [but not Islam!] - remains fair game for art, and has since at least Caravaggio’s time. Andy Warhol, a devout Catholic all his life, made work about the death penalty and talked about how he wanted to be a machine. Piss Christ, Ninth Hour, the Barbie Crucifix . . . examples of the genre are plentiful. Same too for sex. We snicker at a mainstream media that can't show a Modigliani nude without blurring the nips and pubes, and we revere Robert Mapplethorpe's meditations on light, composition and symmetry . . . . [W]e all need to be offended, and not for the righteous satisfaction of saying so. Being offended means being slapped with a wrongness that doesn't fit our worldview. If we aren't offended, we are never shaken out of our own little bubble and forced to acknowledge all the other little bubbles out there . . . . Of course, it's not art's job to save us from ourselves. Art may be good at being offensive, but it's also ambiguous. Great art is unto itself, meaning that even when it has political undertones, it's not straightforward propaganda. Art is not politics . . . . It's not anything except an echo of nature, which is to say it's chaotic. I take great comfort in that . . . . [T]hat's a reason many people aren't interested in art, or at least good art - they want their ten commandments to help them go through their lives with a sense of externally-imposed order. They need art that explains itself. But good art doesn't explain itself. It doesn't spell things out. It has multiple agendas, and reflects our ambiguous world where things are not black and white . . . . Transforming the world means transforming yourself, continually, by leaving your context and crossing over into unknown territory. The term "trans" has become associated with gender identity, but its more general meaning applies to everybody: vacating your own territory of this-is-what-I-am, what-I-believe. Social conservatives (who distrust art) tend to be lousy at this. But so do many so-called progressives. Face it, we all do: our tribalism, a nifty evolutionary advantage for survival, has been holding us back for centuries now. Tribalism is acute in the art world: our insular, reactionary, small-c conservative bubble responds to the unknown with indifference or hostility, just like every other bubble . . . . Fussing over people's language and dress, policing Halloween costumes, and writing up checklists of acceptable behaviors, while providing a comforting sense of order, won't change the world. The universe is chaotic and ambiguous. Look to the artists.
Knudson gets it Right . . . and Left! I also like her remark about the meaning of art: "Art is not politics . . . . It's not anything except an echo of nature, which is to say it's chaotic." Art as an echo of nature. Something to think about . . .

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