Wednesday, June 9, 2010

An opinionated rant

This evening I attended a discussion at the Portsmouth Museum of Fine Art. The discussion was to be about 3 pieces of the current exhibit Art At The Edge. I mentioned attending the opening reception of this exhibit a couple of weeks ago – most of the work isn’t my cup of tea, and I actually hoped to learn more about the appeal of some of these works from other participants. Instead, I was reminded once again that I am a square peg trying to fit in a round hole.
We began with the overwhelmingly popular (to everyone else) installation by Sarah Hutt My Mother’s Legacy. On display is a table full of wooden bowls. On the bottom of each bowl was carved a memory of her mother, who died of cancer when the artist was 13. This included things like “my mother wore a girdle”, “my mother alphabetized her books”, “my mother always wore a hat to church”. I kept silent while nearly everyone else in the room raved about the lovely tribute, and how wonderful it was to participate in the installation by picking up the bowls to read them, whether there was any symbolism in choosing bowls to carve on, or that they were wood. Whatever. To me, it felt like sappy sentimentality masquerading as art. Honestly, if your mother wore a girdle, keep it to yourself. Really. I don’t want to know. I don’t want to know that your mother was “always on a diet”. That’s not art, that’s a transcript of your therapy sessions. Harsh. I know – don’t bother telling me. It’s not that I can’t understand the pain of losing one’s mother at a young age – mine died when I was three. But I never expected everyone else to want to experience it with me – that’s beyond strange to me. And yet…..

These two pieces by Ray Caesar (actually the second one is a study of the one in the museum, not the exact image) were mostly panned by the group, who were alternately repulsed by what they perceived to be the “sexualization of children” or what they called “demon horns” on the two in Wallflowers (which appear to me to be more like animal ears, hollow in the front). I find the surreal quality of these digital paintings captivating, and as to the impressions of the others in the group, I believe we find what we look for. And I was amazed (and a little disturbed) to find that I was the only one in the room with anything positive to say about them. In fact, I love them.
Ray Caesar copyright 2008

Ray Caesar copyright 2008
Wallflowers Study Above
It’s not as if you don’t already know about my penchant for the strange and macabre – see here and here and the comments about Surrealism here. None of which is reflected in my own art. Hmm. There’s a subject for another day.


  1. Art is really all about the perception of who is viewing it. I also think that people tend to think with the "mob mentality" at art shows. Once one person says that they like something, suddenly everyone likes it.

    I experienced this at an artist's talk a while back. One person pointed out a mixed media piece that was supposed to be a mermaid. It was essentially some driftwood with bits of shells and other found objects. I am convinced that the majority of attendees would not have even glanced at it if that one person hadn't pointed it out for the juror to talk to. Instead we spent 15 minutes ruminating on why the elements "spoke to the audience". Rubbish.

  2. I think my biggest surprise was not watching the "mob mentality" in action. I was actually taken aback that in a setting such as this - an organized discussion group at a museum - there seemed to be no one there but me who could see any value or positivity in work that wasn't pretty or sweet or cute. And I guess my tone results from feeling as if I was being judged on a personal level for my dissention. I should be bigger than that, I guess.

  3. Keep your 'squareness," it's what makes your work you. A fan! Have your read the book by a gallery owner, J. Horejs, "Starving" to Successful? He answers some of your musings. As far as bowl art and mother sayings, people love art that makes them emote, when the artist shares part of their heart that is familiar; something a stranger doesn't do. I give you a big blog-hug you lost your mother at such a young age; it brings tears. I'd love to see a Lee Ann mosiac that expresses this loss. It would be a keeper!

  4. Thanks, I will look up that book, Joann. But as far as art that makes people emote, I wonder two things: 1) do people need this to bring out the emotions they can't cope with on their own, or 2) do they want to feel a connection with the artist by participating in the artist's emotions? For nearly everyone who views the artist's work, that artist IS a stranger. So I don't understand the desire to participate in their life in such an intimate way. This is just my perspective - not saying it's the "right" one.

    I don't think you would ever see an artwork by me that would express the loss of my mother. Partly because I lost her at such a young age that I remember almost nothing, and also because whatever emotions remain are incredibly complicated, and could never be well expressed to a stranger, whether through visual art or words. My goal has been to give people a gentle reminder that beyond the pain of living is a beauty that transcends our own lives and experiences. Something that may be fleeting or well-rooted, but outside our own petty concerns. Although after the thought process that this discussion has triggered, I may have to begin working on themes that center on finding the beauty in non-traditional places.



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