Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Digressions and a Bit about Minority Art

The National Museum of Women in the Arts is one of the best art galleries I've perused since I've been here. The presentation of the work is attractive and whomever wrote the placards giving in depth information about each setting didn't get bogged down in esoteria. Save needless information for a book, but introduce each grouping in ways that are informative and give a good overview of the period or style of the works. Male visitors were in the minority, surprise surprise, but there were a few besides me. Most of the people around me were older, well-dressed professional women either my mother or my grandmother's age. Some of them looked like those nutty PUMAs from early this year who were supposedly a lethal minority of sore loser Hillary Clinton voters.

As for the art itself---much of it is of excellent quality. Some of the works, however, border on gratuitous---for example the openly lesbian bull dyke photographer who got a friend to carve (very painfully I might add) a crudely rendered drawing into the flesh of her upper back. Painful to look at, for sure, especially since blood was quite noticibly trickling down her back in the shot. Yet again I am reminded of how often explicitly LGBT art tends to be just that----explicitly LGBT at the expense of the craft itself. I noticed this earlier on a visit to a Dupont Circle area movie/music shop, whereby almost every title expressly designed for the attention of a queer audience bordered on soft porn. One of the stereotypes about gays and lesbians is that they are hypersexual and films like 90% of the ones I saw do absolutely nothing to discourage that portrayal.

Navel gazing of any kind doesn't make for good art or for good expression. I understand how many of these galleries wish to be inclusive and put the (Insert Big Flashing Lights) gay or lesbian or black or American Indian or Asian or Hispanic or other historically oppressed minority among the other works, but the artists in question ought to understand they are artists first and minorities of whatever variety strongly second. There are artists of all stripes who have made a name for themselves based on the novelty of what they are and I like them much less than artists whose works speak more loudly than their personal life. A man I have much respect for once told me that there are often two types of openly gay or lesbian public figures: gay professionals or professional gays. As you might have guessed, I much favor the former.

Back to the work I saw, some of it could easily have been called pornographic. I understand the intent---that today's society is so sex-drenched and how we are bombarded on a daily basis with highly sexualized images, but I think we're all reminded of that in an almost de facto way that we don't need art to show us something about ourselves we're already aware of consciously. To me, that's the role of art---to show the audience something subconciously that they'd never realize in a conscious frame of mind. By this point in time, everyone knows about the plight of downtrodden minorities. I picture several visual artists who know they need never really produce anything particularly novel so long as they continue to navel-gaze with their work and mine the same old ain't it awful territory that some liberals love to emphasize ad nauseum. I'm not sure expression of oppression was ever supposed to be a stock in trade or a cottage industry.


Suzy said...

Hi, Comrade Kevin. I've seen your name plenty at the Quaker Agitator, but this is the first time I've drifted over to your blog. I appreciate what you have to say about "minority art". I understand the need for minority groups to assert themselves (and seek acknowledgement) through art, but it's hard to take when it is the only thing. as you say, when the craft itself is ignored.

Quick question: I noticed that you are a member of the DC Meeting. Do you know Julia Isaacs?

Comrade Kevin said...


Thanks for your comment. :)

I am just visiting DC right now and am also visiting the DC meeting. Thus, I'm just getting to know people who attend but if I am introduced to Julia, I will let you know.

Anonymous said...

One thing that's been on my mind recently: Perhaps the original and most successful feat of identity politics was the invention of "Southern" identity and the "Lost Cause" by defeated Confederates, 1865-present. It's mostly marginalized today, but still shapes many folks' view of the Civil War and emancipation, even many who consciously reject neo-Confederate ideology. Maybe "damned old Rebels" set the pattern for every type of militant identity politics in the 20th-21st centuries.