cats, mirrors and adolescent breasts
By Martin Allan Treu 1/1/02
On December 23, 2001, New Jersey Network's weekly telecast
State of the Arts, hosted by Amber Edwards, ejaculated a dose
of censorship, and bad judgement, and poor taste right into the
eyes and ears of a stunned audience.
"These paintings appear to be politically incorrect," Edwards
scolded no one in particular, as she perused the work of
German-American painter Albert Bierstadt. Edward's
accomplice for the show, Patterson Sims, Director of the
Montclair Art Museum (MAM) hastened to agree. Then,
as if to go the host one better, the museum director
proclaimed that Bierstadt's 80 by 120 inch oil on
canvas The Landing of Columbus at San Salvador,
had previously been hung behind a curtain,
because its subject matter was so offensive.
What, exactly, does such an offensive painting depict,
one wonders? Well, in this case, the artwork shows
nothing more than savage Caribbean-island cannibals
kneeling on the beach, while a party of Europeans
comes ashore. This is precisely what happened
during numerous landings of Europeans. In some cases,
the Indians of North and South America believed the
white men, with firearms and huge ships, to be
gods -- the Indians knelt in worship.
Amber Edwards and Patterson Sims were scrutinizing
the Montclair Art Museum's exhibit "Primal Visions:
Albert Bierstadt 'Discovers' America." The exhibit features
50 works of several artists, and it explores one of Bierstadt's
apparently politically incorrect themes: the European explorers'
impressions of the New World. Let me repeat the theme for
those who were not paying attention: the European explorers'
impressions of the New World--not anyone else's impressions, but the European explorers' impressions. Isn't every group entitled to be depicted and displayed, in a free society's museums, in any manner the artist feels appropriate?
The critical, and thoughtless remarks of art-world professionals Amber Edwards and Patterson Sims, were without specific reference to the talent of the artist. Talent, of course, is what creates art. In the case of Bierstadt, his talents have been held in high regard, as was demonstrated in 1898 when he was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters.
Montclair Art Museum director, Patterson Sims, and New Jersey Network's television
hostess Amber Edwards failed to apply the "good art" or "art
for art's sake" evaluation criteria cogently outlined by Joseph Conrad
when he said:
Any work that aspires to the condition of art must carry its
justification in every line.
In Bierstadt's case, the justification is present, but it is ignored for political reasons, and art is censored.
In many other cases, however, judging by the childlike hobby products, amateurish handiwork, and just plain junk masquerading as art under the auspices of the New Jersey State Counsel on the Arts, political considerations have trumped any requirement that art carry its own justification, i.e. it doesn't have to be good, but it must be politically correct. (Anthony Comstock and his Society for the Suppression of Vice would be delighted.)
Albert Bierstadt belonged to the Hudson River School, which included many painters whose work has long been recognized as Fine Art, appropriate for hanging unashamedly in any art museum. It is not important if a particular work of art or a particular school of artists is considered "pee cee" or not "pee cee" by a group of dullards and dunces. Fine Art should be celebrated for its own sake, in art museums and by art professionals everywhere.
Hanging art works behind curtains, because their content/subject is held to be offensive by some narrow-minded people should always be condemned---that is censorship.
Rewriting history to pander to, or placate bigots and race hustlers should always be condemned -- that is revisionism.
Censorship, and revisionism, along with good intentions, pave the road to
Martin Allan Treu is the editor of eNewsViews.net