Saturday, March 23, 2013

Artist Is Shocked To Discover Postmodern Theory May Be Relevant To Real Life

I recommend Joshua Alston's thoughtful piece in The Feminist Wire, "Confessions Of A Black Morrissey Fan." I had some immediate thoughts about it but ultimately decided to leave Alston's comment section free of abstruse reflections from this particular long-winded White person. So I'm writing them here instead.

Alston brings up that classic predicament of enjoying art by an artist who personally is odious in some way, whether they violate one's core principles or they are bad, bad people. (I've written about this issue before). Though Alston doesn't mention it many such articles weigh the guilt of giving money and support to the odious artist through CD purchases and the like with the enjoyment the listener or viewer gets from the art. Many also point out that there are many other, better artists out there to whom one could devote time and money, people who could use the money and publicity. So there are typically three considerations for consuming art by odious artists:

1. The effect on the artist,
2. The effect on the viewer, and
3. The effect on (and existence of) the cultural climate in which the art exists and is consumed (i.e. the other artists, what the act of consumption means to the outside world, and even the cultural context in which one may try to judge how relevant the particular act of odiousness is).

For Alston, though, there is the added predicament of not only disapproving of the artist, but also being the object of the artist's aggression because he belongs to a class of people who are made out to be "The Other" by the artist's actions (Morrissey is "probably" racist according to Alston's analysis*, and Alston is a fan who is Black).

When I (a woman) consider the experience of consuming art made by egregious misogynists, of being The Other while involving myself with the artwork, it is different than, say, reflecting on Caravaggio's murderous personal life and thinking, "What an asshole. But this painting is nice." Because Caravaggio's crimes had nothing to do with me it is easy to assume the role of Any Given Viewer of his paintings. He intended his paintings to be seen by viewers, and I'm a viewer.

But when the odiousness is misogyny I am not Any Given Viewer. I am The Other and the object of alienation. And yet there I am, seeing and judging the artist's work as if I belonged in their very closest circle. It is akin to being accidentally invited inside someone's home when one knows one is not ordinarily welcome. As a viewer that can put one in a position of unexpected power, or it could feel eerie or gross. Even when the viewer puts aside their personal involvement and adopts a clinical interest it is impossible to have that no-questions-asked feeling of invitation into the direct experience of the art.

To put it another way, I said "[Caravaggio] intended his paintings to be seen by viewers, and I'm a viewer." However when an artist's othering mindset is shared by their culture, and often by the viewer's culture as well, they probably think of a generic "viewer" as automatically not inclusive of that Other. It's a type of attitude which many people are unaware of having in which they categorically speak of "people" and the Other as two separate groups. For instance, "All these immigrants are making it really hard for people to find jobs," ("people" isn't inclusive if "immigrant") or "What nobody understands is that when women say one thing they really mean another," ("nobody" means "no man").

So when the misogynist artist makes art for a "viewer," they don't mean me, and why would they?

It's also an attitude that precipitates the tendency of TV producers to cater to a generic "audience" of imaginary middle class white men, although that is beginning to change. Yet Others in the audience experience this alienation (often as skepticism) at the same time that they get swept along in the emotions and narratives that the artists intend to create, which ultimately distances the Other from the direct experience of getting swept up. The Other instead experiences "getting swept up" as relative to his or her feelings of alienation, and relative to his or her relationship to the artists within society.

A rare flipping of the "audience is automatically male" script: famous "sweater girl" Jane Russell enjoys the other side of the sexually objectifying gaze in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. The scene is unusual in that, I assume, it was written for the benefit of women in the audience at the expense of male audience discomfort. [Image: A sporty white woman holding a tennis racket frolics through an array of muscled white men wearing tiny skin-colored swimsuits and sticking their butts up at her. In the background more Adonises in tiny swimsuits strike showy poses while "working out" on gym equipment.]


Which brings me, as always, to postmodern theory.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Website Re-Launch

I just re-designed and massively updated my website (not this one but the one where all my artwork is shown). It is byoooooootiful, and there's new work up: