I don't know much about art, but I know what I like. This is what I think about Ellsworth Kelly's "Red, Yellow, Blue II," pictured above: Not much.
It's a collection of three rectangular panels rendered in the primary colors, used by the artist to say that he has stripped art of all context and form, making a statement about being and nothingness and the meaninglessness of art. The work allows people who believe they know a lot to project what they wish to say upon it, and to receive nods of agreement from the like-minded. It's hipster irony from the 60s, an ape's tribute to the legacy of Jackson Pollack. If it were aural rather than visual, its challenge to the beholder would not be that of a Lou Reed or Albert Ayler, but of John Lennon's "Revolution No. 9."
It's bad art, wanking in three colors, and it doesn't even get the colors right. Green, not yellow, is in fact a primary color as received by the human eye. Had Kelly chosen green for the middle panel, he would have created transgressive art of a low satiric sort, lampooning the optic ignorance of the aesthetes who fawned over him while he created the Red, Yellow, Blue series. Had Kelly chosen indigo, international orange, and royal blue, he would created something genuinely dangerous. If Kelly had painted his rectangles in cyan, yellow, and magenta, he'd have made real art, anticipating the work of giants, Roy Lichtenstein, Leiji Yatsumoto, and Keith Haring.
This Feburary, ET (a woman whose name I won't write because she's taken enough online grief) visited the Milwaukee Art Museum with her young kids. Afterward ET posted this, on a personal blog devoted to her daily life, and primarily directed to family and friends:
You call this art? I'm sorry but I can't express how much I loathe this "exhibit" at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Really? Wait. I get it. The "artist" isn't finished. He/she (I couldn't stand to look at who made this crap) is coming back over the weekend to put something real onto those primary colored rectangular pieces of crap I mean canvasses. I could really go on and on but I think my point has been made.
That's essentially what I think of Red, Yellow, Blue II, only more direct. Bad things happened to ET thereafter. The difference is, Popehat won't be invaded by patronizing art snobs seeking to denigrate me for what I just wrote, and I won't be made a laughingstock in the art community of a dying city whose chief claim to artistic fame is a 70s sitcom about loose women who bottle beer.
That's precisely what happened to ET. Her site was invaded (anyone who's experienced an online invasion knows what I mean), her name was plastered all over the web, and now she's even the subject of an oh-so-patronizing column by the arts columnist of the Milwaukee Journal and Sentinel, and even more patronizing comments by idiots like ToddF, who writes:
I think she was scared and threatened. Not so much by the response as by the art. She feels threatened because so much of society values something that she does not understand. Her values may not be rock solid. Her response was emotional, a clear sign of fear. Her response leaned toward the infantile, she sought reinforcement from a very non-complex assessment, her child's. I would have been very surprised if she had not backed into obscurity after crying out her fear.
Should she reappear, or others take up her cry, I doubt if they would be open to nuanced arguments or complex points of view. They would likely rely on volume over quality.
Of course, I agree that she should not be applauded for stating her opinion publicly simply because her opinion was not carefully thought through, she did not add any real value to the discussion of art, she simply cried out. She, as a person, has value, though, her fear should not be belittled, compassion should color any thoughts about her. But having compassion for her should not bestow a value to her remarks that is simply not there.
The comment in question is directed to the question of why ET, after days of cyber-harassment by the arts community of Lagerville, password-protected her blog. I rather doubt that ET is afraid of Red, Yellow, Blue II. She's afraid of the weirdoes who stalked her after one of their like found her blog entry, probably through Google, and posted it for his friends on some Milwaukee arts listserv for laffs. To the point where she's now not only the subject of dissection in the local fishwrapper, but also in the city magazine (to be fair, that author is as disgusted as I am). She's been called a ditz and a religious fanatic, because she pointed out that the emperor has no clothes, or that the emperor is a series of primary-colored rectangles.
Some of the commenters at the story linked above claim that ET deserves this treatment, because she put her thoughts out for the world to see. I differ. ET doesn't hold herself out as an art critic, and didn't seek their attention. Having a crappy little blogspot blog about what Jamie and Joseph are eating and by the way, we went to the Milwaukee Art Museum and here's what I thought, isn't seeking attention in any normal sense, in a country where everyone is online. It doesn't make one, as the commentariat ethicists who've mocked ET would say if they wanted to phrase things in legal terms, an "involuntary public figure." It certainly isn't cause for the internet equivalent of a comment-trashing home invasion. There are millions of ordinary people who wouldn't understand or like RYB2, and would say so, but their Myspace, Facebook, and Blogspot pages haven't been invaded.
No, this is a gang of half-educated people swarming on one uneducated (or for all I know, supremely educated but with a low tolerance for bullshit) woman they perceive to be of a lower class. I call it sexist, and I call it classist, the terms that these people would use to describe the behavior of a gang of goons in other contexts.
As I stated above, Popehat won't get a home invasion from the artistes of Milwaukee, because, though I know nothing about art, I'm sarcastic, I drop the right names (including one so obscure that the Milwaukee critics would run to look up the name of the director of "Star Blazers"), and we show in other respects that we attended the right schools. Plus, to a man, the authors here are men.
Which brings me round, after 1074 words, to the the point of this post, in which I disregard the drama of Beertown, and focus on my real game, genuinely formidable people: Marc Randazza and Scott Greenfield, writing about the AutoAdmit case.
The facts of the AutoAdmit case, sorry travesty that it is, were posted by my friend Ken here. Shorter AutoAdmit: On public bulletin board devoted to gossip, men behave like beasts and post degrading things about specifically named women. Women, rather than rebut the crap, sue for libel etc. They sue too far, including parties who aren't even arguably involved in the wrong.
I agree with Randazza and Greenfield that suing the wrong party is bad. The best remedy is a dismissal with prejudice and an apology. I agree with Randazza and Greenfield that the plaintiffs in the AutoAdmit case went from victims to victimizers, because they sued the wrong party, and refused to dismiss with prejudice and apologize. I agree with Randazza and Greenfield that some of the AutoAdmit plaintiffs' defenders are fools, cheering on plaintiffs who (in the case of one of the defendants) should be sanctioned harshly for unfounded litigation.
But I disagree with an assumption that seems to be implicit in both Randazza and Greenfield's posts on the subject, that the internet is a war zone, that one should "man up" if one wishes to brave the wilds of free speech. That's true if one wants to post on the forums at Something Awful or Anonymous, but it isn't and shouldn't be true on the internet in general, any more than it should be in a mall or a restaurant. If Marc or Scott was in a restaurant and saw a woman molested by a dozen angry art critics who'd overheard her saying, to someone sitting at her table, that she didn't appreciate Red Yellow Blue II, he'd try to put a stop to it, as well he should.
This is not an argument for chivalry, by the way, but it is a discussion of the way bullies on the internet, who generally are men as bullies are in the real world, actually behave. I'm a firm believer in the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory. I also believe that when a fuckwad (and face it, the vast majority of fuckwads are men) sees virtual breasts, he becomes not a Greater Fuckwad, but a Total Fuckwad. When that fuckwad has a Master's Degree in Art Appreciation from the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, and perceives that his victim probably just got a Bachelors' Degree in Non-Arts Appreciation from the University of Wisconsin at Some Town Further Down The Food Chain Than Milwaukee, well then we get what happened to ET.
I said earlier that Popehat won't receive an invasion of idiots looking for cheap thrills because the site doesn't look like a mommyblog, and a cursory reading of the site shows that anyone looking for trouble will find it. If not from me, from Ken or David, who are more cutting than I am. Randazza or Greenfield, both veteran trial lawyers and veteran bloggers, could post anything they wished to say about Red, Yellow, Blue II, and neither would become a beerhall arthouse laughingstock, because, again, a cursory reading indicates Internet Badass, as do their names.
I say this because I recognize, in the people (men and women but I'm guessing mostly men) who invaded ET's blog and made her the roast of the Milwaukee art scene, myself at a younger age. I understand them, because I'm one of them and better at it than most of them. I've eviscerated people on the internet, and will do it again, but no longer take pleasure in the act.
The truth is, you're the Weak. And I'm the Tyranny of Evil Men. But I'm trying, Ringo. I'm trying, real hard, to be the Shepherd.
Everyone, to a man or woman, who ganged up on ET is weak. The internet could use more shepherds.
(Thanks to Anne Reed for the pointer.)