Archive for Saturday, January 14, 2012

Artist responds

January 14, 2012


To the editor:

This is a message for Richard Wingfield (Public Forum, Jan. 12). Thank you for taking all of a paragraph to completely generalize the world of art. Art is ultimately about thinking, and it is clear you did little of that. The mannequin, you so easily tossed aside as irrelevant and absurd, symbolizes my mother. It is even more relevant because my most vivid memory of my mother involves her sewing clothes for me on a mannequin dress form. The baby dress on top of the mannequin’s “head” symbolizes me and the way my very existence can be a burden and a blinder, both financially and emotionally.

So, before you decide to attack art, me and, by extension, my family, perhaps you should do some thinking of your own. Even some abstract thinking if you’re up to it, because that is the kind we could use here in Kansas. I now live in Boston, where the arts are celebrated for bringing culture and vitality to the city, not punished for being “frivolous.” Kansas is a beautiful place that I will always call home, but it is people like you and their ignorance that causes people in Boston to cast aside Kansas as easily as you cast aside my mannequin.

Also, if you would care to take a look at the Kansas Department of Transportation’s Condition Survey Report of 2011, you will find that, statewide, 85.8 percent of Kansas roads are above performance level one and a mere 0.8 percent are below performance level three.

I like to be informed before submitting things to the newspaper, and so should you.


cato_the_elder 6 years, 4 months ago

"The mannequin, you so easily tossed aside as irrelevant and absurd, symbolizes my mother. It is even more relevant because my most vivid memory of my mother involves her sewing clothes for me on a mannequin dress form. The baby dress on top of the mannequin’s “head” symbolizes me and the way my very existence can be a burden and a blinder, both financially and emotionally."


formyle 6 years, 4 months ago

As a writer and artist, I frequently deal with the frustrations associated with making the visions inside my head real. It is disappointing to achieve something artistically, only to find it is not received as I might hope. I realize that's a chance every artist takes, but everyone in any field of endeavor--no matter what it is--wants their labors to be appreciated.

Because our work can be extremely personal, it is even more important to demonstrate respect for what artists do, even if you don’t like it. Your view isn’t necessarily the prevailing opinion, and others might find value in what you do not. Artists reveal themselves to the world in a manner professionals in other fields never will. We can take criticism if it remains constructive, but criticism without purpose is shallow and empty.

The artist responded to Richard Wingfield with intelligence, dignity and (frankly) more patience than his brief note deserved. I applaud her masterful defense of art and artists and hope the unimaginative assessments of Wingfield and others like him never discourages her from following her creative vision.

A final, personal note to Richard Wingfield: it is acceptable to allow a thought to go unexpressed.

streetman 6 years, 4 months ago

I think you missed a point of the original letter. If you want to put a mannequin in a field to express yourself, go for it. I think it's cool, myself. Just don't expect (demand?) that taxpayers to fund things like this -- it's a luxury we cannot afford with things of higher priority (infrastructure repairs and under funded KPERS come to mind.

verity 6 years, 4 months ago

It seems once again there are two sides talking over each other and maybe ignoring some facts.

These discussions seem to focus only on one kind of art---mostly three-dimensional visual art.

How much of the state's art budget was spent on paying sculptors for public art and how much was spent on bringing art of all kinds (music, theater, painting, photography, museum exhibits, architecture, etc) to a public that may not have been able to experience it otherwise? How much is spent on educating people?

How do these things affect the state's economy? Is more money brought in than is spent? Does the state funds act as seed money for projects that couldn't be funded otherwise?

Is art valuable in our lives---does it have a place that nothing else can fill and would that be considerably lowered if the state didn't supply some funds? Does it help open our minds to possibilities we would not have thought of otherwise?

On the other hand, just because an artist does something does not make it valuable. The question a photography teacher posed once when critiquing our work was---does it have a reason for existing? I still think of that when I observe art.

There are going to be many different opinions on that, but just like it's been said that not everything that comes into your mind has to be said, not every idea an artist has has to be expressed.

Again people are making this into an either/or situation as though that tax money is just going down the rabbit hole, which it obviously isn't.

But more relevant to this particular letter and discussion---did the state pay for it or is Ms Johnson doing this on her own or perhaps a school project. In that case, it's not any of our business whether we see it as "good art" or not.

verity 6 years, 4 months ago

The world must be coming to an end . . .

I think that you are expanding on exactly what I said---except that this piece might mean something to some others, even if you and I don't see it as being relevant or even art. I have no idea what another passerby might think. In art history and other art classes I was taught some standards by which art was to be judged---I suspect those standards have changed over the past few decades and maybe we need to revisit that issue.

I hesitate to break our kumbaya moment, but you didn't respond to any of my other points.

verity 6 years, 4 months ago

And I see no evidence that Ms Johnson's art was funded by our tax dollars.

Liberty275 6 years, 4 months ago

"And I see no evidence that Ms Johnson's art was funded by our tax dollars."

She seems to be proof you can be an artist without hanging at the teat of government.

jafs 6 years, 4 months ago

Except that it was a school project, and she's moved to Boston, where the arts seem to be more appreciated, and I assume, funded.

budman 6 years, 4 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

mmtrompeter 6 years, 4 months ago

As the mother of an art major, I applaud Emily for her thoughtful response to Mr. Wingfield. He needs to do his research on exactly what Kansans have lost because of the short-sighted actions of our governor in the funding of the arts.

Tony Kisner 6 years, 4 months ago

People in Boston think they are better than us?

Mike Ford 6 years, 4 months ago

anyone remember the twilight zone episode where the pig faced hospital people considered the normal faced woman ugly? some of these kansas people remind of the pig people in that twilight zone episode.... the people making uneducated comments about art and acting as if their ignorance is acceptable and to be championed in a "Common" way...

formyle 6 years, 4 months ago

Mr. Wingfield disliked what the artist was working on and inferred his tax money was being wasted by her efforts. No one claimed she received funding for her project. This tangent seemed a rationalization to justify mocking her work, rather than understanding it. We might not experience her art with the same clarity she does, but that does not mean there is nothing there to see.

“Streetman” warns the artist not to expect or demand funding for efforts of this type. What demands? Only Mr. Wingfield has implied she received anything for her efforts. “Verity” poses the question of how to establish whether the artist’s work has value. To ask whether art needs to exist is one standard. It is, however, only one of many subjective standards and one’s personal views cannot be brandished about as an absolute truth, as Mr. Wingfield sought to do. Both “Verity” and “BornAgainAmerican” suggest that we need to know if the artist received funding, ostensibly because they could not find value or shared meaning in her work. The implication is that “good” art should be subsidized, but art that is difficult to understand should not. These may be valid concerns, but concerns that cannot be satisfied in advance. Should the arts not be funded for fear that someone might photograph a mannequin in a field? Should art come with a guarantee attached that ensures we find shared meaning and value in the work? Answer carefully—the implications for responding to these questions in the affirmative are myriad.

“BornAgainAmerican” asks if we are ignorant for failing to recognize the abstract qualities assigned to this mannequin by the artist. We are not, but we are limiting ourselves to assume there is nothing relevant in the artist’s work if we don’t instantly comprehend its intent. Herein lies perhaps a reason for this piece to exist: to challenge us to search for meaning. Philosophers have encouraged this in all facets of life for centuries. Perhaps to search for meaning rather than value IS the value of the work.

I would reiterate that determining the value in art in advance as criteria for funding is a road fraught with false turns. If the significance of art must be established in advance to justify its existence, who gets to decide what makes art meaningful? How will the return on our tax investment be calculated? Will art even endure under such constraints, or will folks like Mr. Wingfield decide for us that it’s simpler to build a road than challenge ourselves to think?

Rather than dwelling on whether the artist’s efforts are subsidized, let us instead encourage her to explore her personal vision and enjoying what springs from her talent and effort. Creativity in our endeavors fuels the upward trend in our world, whether in art, technology, politics or any other pursuit. To limit or stifle creativity through omission, censorship or derision is destructive and foolish.

verity 6 years, 4 months ago

"Both “Verity” and “BornAgainAmerican” suggest that we need to know if the artist received funding, ostensibly because they could not find value or shared meaning in her work."

Maybe my comment was too long and you didn't read it all, but you are misunderstanding what I said. While the discussion here has turned to whether art should be taxpayer funded, that discussion is irrelevant in this case since it wasn't.

"one’s personal views cannot be brandished about as an absolute truth"---I have never done that and I didn't say that the criteria I mentioned was the only criteria to judge art by---I only stated it as one that a teacher had used. I also did not state that I saw no meaning in Ms Johnson's photograph---I stated that even if I didn't, it didn't mean others wouldn't.

While you make some good points, you dilute them by making assumptions and criticizing others on the basis of those assumptions.

formyle 6 years, 4 months ago

Verity, I am sorry you found offense in some of my comments, since I agreed with you in spirit. I was not intending to criticize you or BornAgainAmerican with my words. My point was that Mr. Wingfield brandished about personal views as absolute truths--not you. I thought I had made this clear, but I apparently did not. I also understood that asking if a piece of art needed to exist was only one standard. There are many standards, but unfortunately an objective standard is extremely difficult to establish. And, I did connect with your assertion that the point of funding art in this case was moot (because the artist apparently was not subsidized); it was your final statement that I questioned, which read: "In that case, it's not any of our business whether we see it as "good art" or not." Since you said "in that case", I found myself asking if it would have been our business if we saw the art as "good" if it was subsidized? And, even IF the artist was subsidized for her work, how can we apply standards in advance? I was asking if separate standards should be established for "subsidized" art and artwork that is done without financial assistance? This was what it seemed you were implying from your final comment and was what I was responding to, but perhaps it is not what you meant. I may have read too much into a simple phrase, but it seemed as if you were saying it would be a different ball game if she received funding. In truth, I suspect we view this issue more or less from the same perspective, and no offense was intentionally directed your way or toward "BornAgainAmerican".

verity 6 years, 4 months ago

Formyle, I appreciate your response---I was too hasty in mine.

You ask a lot of questions which are not easily answered and which I have been thinking about for a good part of my life. While setting standards will always be a moving target, I think that we hurt both ourselves and the practice of art by not at least discussing what constitutes good art. I would say that not only should creativity not be stifled, it should be taught and encouraged (yes, I do believe it can be taught). On the other hand, if your child sits down at the piano and begins banging loudly on it, do you say oh he's just being creative, we'll record it and listen to it every day? Probably not---yet it sometimes seems that we are supposed to accept anything as art and not judge it.

So, as a beginning, I would ask: do you look at two paintings in a gallery and say that one has a spark of creativity and the other seems dead and rote? Could that be a standard that might be less subjective than some others? Are there any others than we can judge by that are not totally subjective?

I was taught that there are and, while I don't necessarily agree with everything I was taught, I do think we need to have some standards. I was absolutely devastated when I first began to be critiqued for my art, but I never would have learned anything or improved had I not been critiqued. In one class I took, the teacher was much harder on me than he was on other students, sending me back time after time to redo my work, while he accepted much inferior work from others (you can judge if a photo has been developed or printed properly). I was a little upset until I realized that he was doing me a favor by taking extra time with me because he knew that I was serious and the mostly younger students didn't care that much.

I don't have time right now to address publicly funded or subsidized art and my post is probably too long, so I will quit now.

jafs 6 years, 4 months ago

I think other than some basic questions of "technique", there are virtually no objective standards for art.

And, even those can and are often broken by famous artists who are considered great.

Something that seems to you to have a "creative spark" may seem to others "dead and rote" and vice-versa.

Most people who criticize art seem to me to be simply stating their opinion as if it's factual, rather than an opinion.

verity 6 years, 4 months ago

First off---Ms Johnson, I would like to see the photograph(s) that you took. LJW, can you publish them? I'm sure others would like to see them also.

While I agree that many people who criticize art are simply stating their opinions (and it's often said that those who can't become critics), I still think that the conversation is important. While I may not agree with you on what is "good" art, having that conversation will hopefully educate both of us---and I have learned many things from suggestions from "amateurs" in a field where I am the "professional."

Why do so many people think that van Gogh was an artistic genius? What is it about his paintings that attracts us? Whether we like his art or not, I think we can all tell the difference between a van Gogh and grandmother's paint-by-number and I think those judgments are valid.

Am I allowed to make a value judgment between Picasso and Thomas Kincaid? Can I judge a photograph by it's composition? Can I judge a store window display by whether it attracts customers?

I would argue that value judgments can be made.

However, it would take a whole book---at least---to discuss the subject. This has encouraged me to go talk to the people who taught me and criticized me. Maybe I will write a book---

jafs 6 years, 4 months ago

Many people think Van Gogh is a genius today, but when he was alive, not so much.

Many people think Mozart is a genius, and yet a friend (conservatory trained) doesn't like him at all.

You can make any value judgements you like - it's just that they're subjective - there's no objective criteria by which Picasso can be judged superior to Kincaid.

Much of Picasso leaves me pretty cold, by the way, except for some of his "blue period" stuff. Much modern art leaves me cold - Pollack, etc. but others are willing to spend a fortune for them.

Who's right?

cozborn 6 years, 4 months ago

I take lots of pictures with my cameras, mostly old TLR cameras like the one pictured I fix them up and use them, I also spend a lot of time in Boston, as most of my immediate family lives in Boston, which I don't see having anything to do with the story, but it was included so will I include it also.

I think any government funded art is ridiculous, not because the money can be spent better [which it can and should] but because it makes artists lazy, If I knew I could get government funded film, parts, lenses, filters,bulbs, chemicals,studio time and prints I would shoot anything I thought looked half interesting, then I would just shoot anything. There is no soul in that. Its bad art that you find in the bathroom and kitchen walls of your aunt with bad taste, Its the elevator music cover version of the Beatles.

Art should not be the results of a welfare program.

cozborn 6 years, 4 months ago

I would also like to state that the original letter about the art funding is creating a conversation, that seems to be sparking a lot of different opinions, much like I think art should. Maybe we should frame his original copy?

cozborn 6 years, 4 months ago

I would also like to state that the original letter about the art funding is creating a conversation, that seems to be sparking a lot of different opinions, much like I think art should. Maybe we should frame his original copy?

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