Jan. 26, 2008
Who’s the greatest artist of all time? Rembrandt? Picasso? Michaelangelo?
OK, so I’m posing the question in jest.
It’s just that much of our culture seems dedicated to determining the "best" this or that.
Most of the latest "reality" TV shows, it would seem, reflect that preoccupation. The shows start with a group of individuals who want to be the next pop idol, top model, super clothes designer, or the last remaining "survivor." Each eliminated contestant is exposed to belittlement of one sort or another, with "judges" or fellow contestants pointing out their failures--before they are given the hook.
A recent sports column concerned itself with the swirl of controversy over which professional football team is the best of all time, the 1972 Dolphins or the current Patriots, both undefeated. A former Dolphin, who held that his team was the better of the two, was ridiculed by the writer of the article as having a "deteriorating mind." The former players who argued in favor of their team were labeled in the headline as "grumpy old men."
The second place team in the super bowl is labeled a "loser" because they "can't win the big one." The golfer who comes in second is often described as "choking" or as having blown his chances. Hey, you critics, the guy had to be one hell of a golfer just to get there!
Yes, we put blue ribbons on the "best" jar of pickles, the "best" long-eared rabbit, the "prettiest" girl in America, the "prettiest" girl in the Universe, and, of course, the "best looking" Holstein cow.
At one time I thought that winning ribbons was the way to achieve artistic recognition. I entered shows and fretted over whether the "judges" would find my work worthy. For some reason that didn't feel right, however. Then I asked myself, let's imagine a show with Picasso, Rembrandt, Michaelangelo, DaVinci, and Rodin all competing. Who would "take" best of show? What "faults" would the judges find in the works of the non-winners to support their decisions? Do I even care which would be declared the best? How would that change my perception of their work?
In my readings of art history I noted that many of the artist who were refused entry in shows in their time went on to become highly admired artists. The accepted artists who "beat them out," so to speak, have long been forgotten. Maybe winning a blue ribbon is a bad sign!
These days I no longer think of art as being a competitive deal and so I neither enter nor judge shows. Babe Ruth, Henry Aaron, Barry Bonds, and hundreds of others were tremendous athletes. I don’t need to rank them to admire them, and I don’t need to rank art to enjoy it. In fact, ranking the efforts of others seems to be a side game that does nothing to change the validity of the work they have done. That ribbon hanging on a work of art is, in fact, often a distraction. It takes you into "horse race" thinking rather than reflecting on the meaning of the work itself.
Just like politics.
Jan. 24, 2008
Web guru Steve Cloutier has been revamping my website, and you can readily see the amazing job he's been doing. He's also setting up a Blog page and a Recent Works page for me and patiently guiding me through the process of managing those pages myself.
That has only increased my appreciation of the work he has done. I'm used to working with a paintbrush, a pencil, or a mallet and gouges, not computer programs. I'm sure he's thinking it's pretty tough to retrain a wood carver! If this page ever appears on the website it's due to Steve's patience and persistence.
I hope to use this space now and then to mount my soapbox or simply to share some ideas about the arts. They've been a part of my life now for many years and I'm grateful for the opportunities I've had to share my passion for the arts.