This week, identity art, the impact of AIDS on art, color palettes of masterpieces, artist responsibility, Afro-pessimism, journalism problems, the Prince font, and more.
Today we commemorate the 101th anniversary of the start of the Armenian Genocide, and George Clooney is in Yerevan to present the first ever $1 million Aurura Prize for humanitarianism. I thought it was important to link to this powerful article from last year by Stefan Ihrig about the legacy of the historic event:
Some scholars allege that genocide denialism is the last stage of genocide. But in the Armenian case, it was part and parcel of the unfolding process. Since 1915, the world has been exposed to a morbid battle over “truth,” which in fact is a battle over the right to commit genocide as Turkish denialism dramatically overshoots its goal. It is different from other genocide denialisms because it mainly advances justifications for whatever had happened. For one hundred years — periodically in the press of all major nations around the globe whenever somebody important uttered the “g” word, generations of humans have been exposed to reasons why the first major genocide of the 20th century was not worth remembering, simply had to be committed and why the victims were responsible for their own fate. The guilt of the perpetrators of 1915-1916 is clear; the guilt of those perpetuating genocide justifications upon humanity is beyond comprehension.
… Almost 120 years after Rade’s warning, we have to pause for a moment and think about what prolonged exposure to genocide denialism and genocide justifications have done to all the generations of humans growing up in the meantime. It has been part of the constant background noise of the bloody 20th century, whispering into our ears, that genocide can be gotten away with, that it can even be okay to commit it.
Let’s remember a whole generation of artists that were taken from us because of AIDS:
Yet there was a time when you could walk around London or New York and see these gaunt faces, marked with sarcomas, and everyone you hung out with was dying. The official culture was in denial. Sometimes it was easier to be. I remember seeing Derek Jarman at a play. At that point he was blind. I didn’t want to see him like that. And then my friend was queer-bashed on the way home. Freddie Mercury died. Keith Haring died. Eazy- E from NWA died. Denholm Elliott died. Rock Hudson died. Fela Kuti died. And my uncle who wasn’t famous or even my actual uncle died. One of my friends lost seven people who were all under 30.
I was explaining this to my 25-year-old daughter. She understood what happened, but said, “I just can’t imagine it”. And somehow nor can I, but we lived through it. HIV, we say, is now no longer a death sentence. But, of course, it is in many parts of the world. South Africa has a 19% HIV rate. Russian is only just starting to admit the scale of its problem with an estimate of 1.5 million people with HIV. Neither homosexuality nor addiction can be spoken about in Putin’s Russia.
After a troubling noose incident that turned out to be an art project at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee, Sara Estes reflects on the responsibility of artists:
The bottom line is that artists do not get to decide what their artwork conveys to the public. Thus, they must be very, very careful and thoughtful in their choices. There is a critical responsibility bestowed upon visual artists, writers and other performers who put their work into the public sphere. And that responsibility should be recognized, acknowledged, and taken seriously. Symbols and certain images mean what they mean, and an artist’s good intention does little to alter that.
Not long ago, Nashville’s art community experienced a debacle heated enough to prompt a grassroots citywide meeting and panel discussion about race, diversity, and responsibility in the visual arts. The controversy centered around a painting by artist Sheila B., called Southern Motel, that prominently featured an image of a Confederate flag. It was hung on public view in a restaurant downtown. After the Charleston massacre and subsequent petitioning of the South Carolina Confederate Flag in mid 2015, a Facebook group called for the Nashville painting to be taken down, and it was soon removed and returned to the artist. Some people were up in arms claiming it was an unfair act of censorship; others felt that the painting was incontrovertibly offensive and did not belong on public display; and others had yet to figure out where they stood on the matter.
Bravo to Jerry Saltz and Rachel Corbett, who reflect on the history of identity politics in US art (though they never quite say, it is mostly focused on the US). It’s definitely worth a read (even though it is very incomplete, too focused on New York, gives far too much importance to the 1993 Whitney Biennial, focuses too much on individuals rather than collectives or movements, seems too fixated on American taxonomies, doesn’t seem to understand notions of multiculturalist practice outside the corporate art world, and is too weighed down with minor recent “landmarks”):
After the ’80s, we seem to have lost the reflex to recognize or name new art movements — maybe because in the sprawling new art ecology there were so many isms sprouting at once; plus we’ve always categorized things by formal, medium-based, and geographical attributes. But something has happened here, over the last 25 years, that I am sure will be recognized with great clarity by art-history students very soon. Art in this era has veered dramatically toward an approach that hasn’t been seen in the West for more than 1,000 years: a concerted urge, almost a rage, to be totally communicative to the largest possible audiences, addressing cognoscenti, novices, and newcomers in the same register, telling stories of social, political, and philosophical conditions.
Nearly half of Americans would have trouble finding $400 to pay for an emergency, and this author is one of them:
So I never spoke about my financial travails, not even with my closest friends—that is, until I came to the realization that what was happening to me was also happening to millions of other Americans, and not just the poorest among us, who, by definition, struggle to make ends meet. It was, according to that Fed survey and other surveys, happening to middle-class professionals and even to those in the upper class. It was happening to the soon-to-retire as well as the soon-to-begin. It was happening to college grads as well as high-school dropouts. It was happening all across the country, including places where you might least expect to see such problems. I knew that I wouldn’t have $400 in an emergency. What I hadn’t known, couldn’t have conceived, was that so many other Americans wouldn’t have the money available to them, either. My friend and local butcher, Brian, who is one of the only men I know who talks openly about his financial struggles, once told me, “If anyone says he’s sailing through, he’s lying.” That might not be entirely true, but then again, it might not be too far off.
The color palettes of old, modern, and contemporary masterpieces. Here are the dominant colors in Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus”:
Chorus: Two thousand and fifteen. Washington DC.
Jeb: Pardon me, are you Donald Trump, Chump?
Trump: That depends, who’s asking?
Jeb: Oh, uhmp, humph, I’m Jeb Bush, Exclamation Point, I’m at your service, Chump. I have been…looking for you.
Trump: I’m getting nervous.
Jeb: Grump, I heard your name in New York, I was seeking to campaign for an elected office, when I got in this line due to this last name of mine. You prob’ly know it, my bro and dad both – they guided as they presided —
Trump: You mean as President?
Jeb: Yes! I want to lead this country, governed Florida, I ran and got elected, they looked at me like I was lame, I’m not lame. But for the general. How did George win double terms?
Trump: It goes to show just what the people will affirm.
A new study points out that there are big issues with nonprofit journalism that no one is talking about:
- More than half of 63 funders surveyed indicated that they make grants for coverage of issues “about which they are trying to change public policy or public behavior.”
- Six of 10 among the funders surveyed also said that they have made at least one grant in the last five years to fund “particular stories, exposes or investigations — as opposed to general coverage areas.”
Somewhat related: do mainstream news outfits have disdain for their audience? And if so, what do we do about it? Well:
I think dismantling the disdain for audience will require hard work of news outlets actually getting to know their communities as made up of real, individual, wonderful and wonderfully complex people. Newsrooms need to assume that their audience is capable of more, and then create the conditions for that assumption to be proven right. There’s this great old video of author Viktor Frankl talking about how as human beings, we only become our best when we set our expectations high. It reminds me that whatever we think news audiences are capable of, we’re right. So why not set our expectations higher, start devising ways audiences can be helpful, smart and kind, and calibrate opportunities for engagement to prove it?
Do you know what Afro-Pessimism is?
… Afro-Pessimism entails a certain motivated reading or return to Fanon, an attention to Fanon the theorist of racial slavery and “negrophobia” more so than Fanon the theorist of metropolitan colonialism …
It was the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death this week, and there’s a website dedicated to it (if you want to check it out). Did you know this is the only portrait of the Bard done during his life? BTW, these are the books that influenced Shakespeare.
But behind our public enthusiasm for Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Ethiopian, Korean, and the many other foreign cuisines that can be enjoyed in cities like New York, there is also private, and yet pronounced, form of bias, a subtle hypocrisy that suggests we think these foods are inferior.
Our palate has undergone something of a renaissance over the past century, evolving to incorporate the cuisines of the immigrants who have made the United States their home. But we have incorporated these foods on our terms — not on theirs. We want “ethnic food” to be authentic, but we are almost never willing to pay for it.
The New Yorker talks about Assad and war crimes, even though the US is not able to prosecute its own leaders for war crimes in Iraq and elsewhere:
The commission’s work recently culminated in a four-hundred-page legal brief that links the systematic torture and murder of tens of thousands of Syrians to a written policy approved by President Bashar al-Assad, coördinated among his security-intelligence agencies, and implemented by regime operatives, who reported the successes of their campaign to their superiors in Damascus. The brief narrates daily events in Syria through the eyes of Assad and his associates and their victims, and offers a record of state-sponsored torture that is almost unimaginable in its scope and its cruelty. Such acts had been reported by survivors in Syria before, but they had never been traced back to signed orders. Stephen Rapp, who led prosecution teams at the international criminal tribunals in Rwanda and Sierra Leone before serving for six years as the United States Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues, told me that the CIJA’s documentation “is much richer than anything I’ve seen, and anything I’ve prosecuted in this area.”
The most over-the-top sunset descriptions, including this one by 19th-century art critic John Ruskin:
What can the citizen, who can see only the red light on the canvass of the waggon at the end of the street, and the crimson colour of the bricks of his neighbor’s chimney, know of the flood of fire which deluges the sky from the horizon to the zenith? What can even the quiet inhabitant of the English lowlands, whose scene for the manifestation of the fire of heaven is limited to the tops of hayricks, and the rooks’ nests in the old elm-trees, know of the mighty passages of splendour which are tossed from Alp to Alp over the azure of a thousand miles of champaign?… What recollection have we of the sunsets which delighted us last year?
—John Ruskin, Modern Painters, 1843
Remember when Prince designed his own font?
The font idea, according to Chuck Hermes, who worked on the Paisley Park graphic-design team, came out of internal frustration. “It just seemed like a logical thing to do,” Hermes told me over the phone today. “Everybody was having a hard time. He didn’t even want us to be calling him Prince in person. Part of it was, there was this glyph, this symbol that we didn’t know how to pronounce, and he wasn’t giving us any clues.”
“So we had to start communicating, we were just writing the symbol freehand,” he said. “It started out as we just did it for ourselves. We needed some way to be efficiently communicating with this name that we couldn’t type on a keyboard.”