My mother was an art teacher. She would bring home her lessons for two involuntary acolytes, being my younger sister and me, who would sit quietly in the family room and listen. The lessons, very high quality, were absorbed in the moment and not thereafter practiced by this pupil. My mother’s eye for emotion and dimension was not genetic; it did not pass on.
After many years of accompanying various friends to art shows and art museums, I decided to define art in my own terms. Drawings, paintings, sculpture, photography, whatever medium you use. Art must be at least one of two things, otherwise it is trash. Art must be beautiful or it must make you think about important things differently.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but most of us share many perceptions.
Thinking differently: Cubism may cause us to think about why we expect noses to be of a certain shape, or maybe we take a closer look at the eye or the ear. Hyper-literal paintings which are almost indistinguishable from photographs stimulate thoughts about how the eye perceives and stores detail. Photographs of extreme landscapes, extreme skiers, and many subjects jolt us and make us think, or cringe. Sports Illustrated’s body painting creates a persuasive illusion that nudes are wearing real swimsuits.
Andres Serrano’s descent into trashing religious symbols just to say he had; that’s not art. That’s anger. No one learned anything from his vile fulminations. My mother would have washed his mouth with soap. There are limits. Not all done in the name of art is art; some is trash, some is kitsch, some are merely bad attempts, and some just go beyond in a misguided effort to push the envelope.
Okay, say readers, what exactly does this have to do with current events in Wyoming?
Half Acre. The big UW gym needs a face lift. Built before my parents were born, it needs a boost. [Gee I thought it got one when I was in law school in the late ‘70s.]
UW wants money from the legislature. Apparently such money comes with art-related strings. Legislators grumpy about the Chris Drury piece arranging beetle-killed pines and coal to depict a whirlpool descending into global warming hell want the Half Acre renovation to depict murals celebrating our minerals industries.
How many readers remember the 1970s magazine “Red China Today”? It was the communist version of Life magazine, full color big pages filled with “bumper crops” and smiling peasants. That’s not art. That’s propaganda.
You won’t find many more ardent champions of responsible oil, gas and uranium development in Wyoming than yours truly. BUT, propaganda and art are two distinct things. The symmetry of Mr. Drury’s log sculpture is captivating, and the meaning is thought-provoking regardless of whether one agrees with him. A university is a forum for exchange of ideas, including written and three-dimensional forms.
Instead of having a government committee decide on industry-friendly murals, let’s have a competition for the best murals depicting all facets of life and landscape in Wyoming.
Athletes stretching out in the Half Acre arena deserve better murals than a Wyoming version of Red China Today.