SHOULD PUBLIC MONIES BE USED FOR ART WITH NO MERIT?

For decades, people have been questioning the use of public monies in the area of artistic expression. There is no doubt that art makes the world a whole lot more interesting, but the ideas that encompass what art actually is differ widely.

I think Canadians for the most part embrace the arts, and I also believe that most of us are willing to spend some money on it. It must, however, be deemed worthy and that is where this argument continues to crop up.

A few years back there was public outrage over the shanks of beef that hung in a Canadian art gallery. Entitled “Vanitas Flesh Dress for an Albino Anorexic”, it consisted of 50 pounds of raw steak. In 1995, the CBC french network aired a film which was no less that sick, unadulterated ography in which two 10-year old boys were depicted having relations (yes, those ones) with a cat against its will. This is not art, but simply allows a very sick individual to expose to all of us the inner workings of a very disturbed mind. The most troubling aspect is that it was funded in part by the National Film Board.

Canada’s National Gallery once purchased a work of ‘art’ entitled “Voice of Fire”. It was rivetting. Simply splendid. It was 18 feet tall and 8 feet wide. It was, in a nutshell, a painting of three vertical stripes. A blue stripe, a red stripe, and a blue stripe. Oooh. The price? $1.8 million. Who paid for it? You.

In 1991, the Vancouver Art Gallery spent $10,000 to acquire “Piss Pope I and II.” This display consisted of two busts of John Paul II submerged in jars of urine. The display was touted as an irreverent attack on Catholicism. While I myself am not Catholic, one has to wonder where the artistic merit is in something so vile. Could you imagine the outrage were this to be done today with a bust of Mohammed? Would the artist then face hate crime charges and a litany of expenses as they are dragged through the Human Rights machine?

Now, the Ontario College of Art and Design, a place where apparently anything is art, is at it again. After bringing us the putrid art of one Jubal Brown in the late ’90’s where his vomit was his medium, the college is now presenting the bizarre antics of Jess Dobkin. This is also being done with the help of public monies.

Miss Dobkin is being heralded as a mother and artist, first and foremost. Let me ask this, have you ever heard of an artist being acclaimed because they were hetero ? I guess normalcy doesn’t have the same headline power. “Straight Artist Paints Mona Lisa”.

The work of ‘art’ that is now being touted as the piece du jour is entitled ‘Lactation Station Breast Milk Bar.” Yes, after that stint at the oxygen bar on Jarvis, you can waltz around the town and take in the milk from some lactating mother somewhere. Yummy.

Dobkin, who has received grants of our money from both the Toronto and Ontario Arts Councils, says that she was intrigued by the taboos surrounding breast feeding. What taboos? Breast feeding is considered quite normal in Canada, and in here native New York. What is not widely accepted is for someone over the age of around 2 to still be doing it.

If the study of taboos is now the norm for artistic merit, I wonder if I could also obtain some public money for a few projects. Perhaps some photos of myself playing with a Barbie camper or perhaps some construction workers trying to get over their inner child playing with some dinky cars in the sand at the work site.

I could create sculptures of different species interbreeding and classify it as ‘a classic rebellion of matter over nature.’

I guess what I am trying to say is that sometimes some things simply are not artistic. If anything can be construed as art, then there is no reason to appreciate it. Art should take one’s attention and transform it into some sort of internal admiration. If it can’t accomplish that, what good is it?

While we are talking about appreciation, perhaps we should require artists to come up with some worthy ideas before we begin to hand them money that is taken from people who do real work everyday. Right now, what we have is simply a method for some very lazy and ungifted individuals to thrust upon the rest of us the whims of their fancy and their totally un-artistic inner selves.