Art and Meaning

Over at Evangelical Outpost Joe Carter is writing about Art, toilets, and Christians. (Try this link instead, love wayback machine!) He tells us that

“Last December, 500 arts specialists in Britain agreed that the single most important work of art in the 20th century was Marcel Duchamp’s ‘Fountain.’ “

Duchamp’s “Fountain” is, the Headmistress is sorry to say, a plumbing fixture usually found attached to the wall in the mens’ bathroom- and she does not mean the sink. The Headmistress does not say this in a critical spirit. She is not using metaphor or simile. She does not say that the “Fountain” reminds her of a plumbing fixture. She does not say that ‘Fountain’ is about as inspiring as a plumbing fixture (in her view, it is rather less inspiring, as the said plumbing fixture in its proper place and time serves a valuable purpose). She does not even say that this piece looks like a plumbing fixture attached to the wall in the mens’ bathroom (although it does). She merely identifies it in the same factual sense that one would identify any other noun. This is my toe, that is a table, the thing upon which she types these posts is a computer. That is the emperor who has no clothes. “Fountain,” by Duchamp, is a urinal, and not even a particularly lovely one.

Joe Carter, no slouch he, notices this, too. Like Beatrice, he can see a church by daylight. He has several things to say about this, including,

“To the untrained eye, Duchamp’s “Fountain” looks like nothing more than a discarded urinal with a name painted on the side. But once we know the theory behind the piece (re: associating art with non-art subverts the traditional bourgeois artistic values) we can recognize that the creative process is the important thing. It won’t help us to appreciate the “art work” – it is, after all, still a urinal – but it will allow us to appear sophisticated and “in the know.” Definitely not bourgeois.”

And he draws a conclusion:

“And so this is the situation we find ourselves in at the beginning of the 21st century: the visual arts are in the toilet.”

He also has some good ideas about what Christians should do about this. Go ahead and read the rest of his post, and then come back. The Headmistress will wait- for a moment.

Back now?

We look forward to Joe’s ideas about where we should go from here. Meanwhile, we have some observations of our own to add to the conversation.

Joe refers to Francis Schaeffer, a wonderful philosopher and theologian, author of How Should We Then Live, amongst other things. The Headmistress highly recommends his books. Schaeffer says that as far back as renaissance art, there was a trend toward increasingly meaningless art.

The Headmistress believes that Edgar Degas, the late 19th century impressionist painter, tacitly acknowledged this in a remark he made about how times had changed. He said that Rembrandt painted ‘Susannah Bathing,’ whereas he just painted “Woman in a Tub.”

Schaeffer and others have noted that in the past, great artists were trying to communicate, and artist and viewer met in the middle. An inability to understand the meaning behind a work of art might be seen as failure on the part of the artist to communicate his message. Now, it seems that all the work must be done by the viewer. If the viewer does not agree with the artist or does not guess properly what the artist is communicating, than the viewer is a stupid, provincial, redneck who should probably have stayed home and watched a sit-com. The artist has little or nothing to say, or if he does, he looks down condescendingly upon his public, and encodes his meaning or couches it in insulting terms, expecting the public to guess at his meaning without any shared dialogue. Indeed, since even the artist’s words have no standard meanings, the viewer can only guess.  This means there is no reason to suppose the viewer who thinks a work is worse than meaningless cannot reasonably be condemned as hopelessly out of touch and rather a stick in the mud, but it isn’t often this contradiction occurs to those who think a toilet or a white canvas are magnificent works of art.

In an 1994 edition of Arts & Antiques magazine, the Headmistress found the following quote which illustrates her point:

“Catherine Howe paints pictures that attack the male chauvinism inherent in abstract expressionism. Says the artist,’I’m purposefully misinterpreting it
so I can take this great American painting genre and use the parts I want-
simultaneously referring to it and contradicting it.’ … “I’m trying to open up possibilities of meaning.'”

She does not know what the gentle reader makes of this, but the Headmistress, having referred to it, would now like to contradict it- she does not see that male chauvinism is inherent in abstract expressionism ‘-dismiss it, and move on to another illustrative quote from the same magazine:

“Sean Landers’s works may at first seem a bit self-centered. Whether they are personal ramblings done on yellow legal pads-

[The Headmistress is dismayed that she never thought of this. Perhaps she could have paid for her yearly homeschooling and book purchases with her personal ramblings on white notebook paper- or is it only personal ramblings on yellow notebook paper that are ‘art?’],

or green ceramic leprechauns that allude to his Irish ancestry… or videos that record the narcissistic presentation of the artist’s nude body, all the pieces are autobiographical and reveal aspects of the artists neuroses.

[Headmistress: Emphasis added: Please do note that *All* the pieces are *autobiographcal.* That’s important. The Headmistress assures you that readers will see the significance of this momentarily]

It’s almost as if Landers takes on different roles, as an actor portraying different characters does. “It all depends on my psychological state at the time the work is made,” the artist says. “Even though the whole thing is autobiographical,

[ Headmistress: there’s that word ‘biographical’ again]

if you met me in real life you’d see that I have none of these traits

[The Headmistress goggles. She gasps. She closes her agape mouth, realizing that this is a most unattractive and unlady like pose. She asks, “what?! NONE of the traits in this autobiographical body of work are actually, um, biographical??? What does the artist mean by the word ‘autobiographical? If he meant something else, why would he not have used that word? The Headmistress wishes that she played the guitar and had written great works of literature. Is it true to autobiography to tell you that she has actually done those things?].

Even people who know me don’t recognize me in the work. I’m trying to get
people to like me.”

This. Is. Sad. Indeed, the Headmistress suspects that this artist was not homeschooled and would have benefited from the experience.

As she stated earlier, the Headmistress looks forward to reading more of Joe’s thoughts on the future of art. Meanwhile, after she has given the Gentle Reader time to think on these things, get a cup of coffee, speak to the progeny, and feed the dog, she will share some ideas on art and the education of the young.

Please join us later for more of this topic.




These two ‘tailors’ showing the emperor an empty loom were just ahead of their time.  Not con artists, merely artists, and the loom was an early piece of installation art.

See also:

This story of the art critics who selected a stand for display, rather than the work of art the artist had placed on the stand- and then defended it.

Posted in Art | 1 Response

Sitting Still is Highly Over-rated

DOne of mine was all over the room when I would read,turning somesaults, making faces at the baby, dangling upside in her chair and making cat’s cradles with her hair.

Yet when I asked her a question, she always was able to answer it. She appeared to be paying no attention at all, yet was actually listening and hearing every word.

Her older sister would sit up straight and still and stare intently at me the entire time I read, seemingly hanging on every word, yet sometimes was unable to tell me a single thing about the reading.

Instead of trying to get my wiggler to sit still so she could pay attention, since she obviously could pay attention without ever looking at me, I addressed it as a courtesy issue. I explained that all that wriggling, climbing, flipping, and fiddling is destracting to the speaker. My little tumbler might have been able to pay attention and follow the narrative without ever sitting still, but the speaker (in this instance, me) might not be able to do that.

She gets it from the Headmaster. He paces when he preaches, he paces when he talks on the phone, he wiggles, jiggles, and bounces on his toes while others talk to him, he wrestles with the children while I talk to him, and he used to let the baby climb all over his head while we played cards wtih another couple. He’s a confirmed fidgeter, and he has performed perfectly well in both of his Air Force careers, one as an aircraft mechanic and the other in ‘sales’ (recruiting). He now does quite well at his new job in management.

I have an older relative by marriage who tells the story of how she struggled with her first child to get him to sit still during church. She had to take him out, as usual, and said something about her frustration at not getting him to sit still to an older woman. That lady said, “Well, honey, why should he be able to sit still when
his mother can’t do it?”

If this describes your child, try to harness that energy rather than squelch it. One method seems to me to be working _with_ nature, the other against it. We get out puzzles, crayons, leggoes, and handwork or laundry to fold when I’m reading aloud. And at our house, there’s always laundry to fold!

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Going to the City (Or, Why You Shouldn’t)

Last Tuesday was my day off, so I spent all day in town spending money. I’m spending $170 on a new retainer to replace the one I lost almost a year ago. I spent $30 dollars at State Line Tack (a record for me, until Tuesday I’d never spent less than $45 at State Line Tack), $33 dollars at K-Mart, $10 bucks at a book shop, and $8 on clothes.

This last, at least, was a deal. I have determined that I am very tired of wearing my sisters’ skirts because, frankly, when one is 5’0 tall, one doesn’t like to wear things that only emphasize this lack of leggage. I therefore purchased a pretty blue skirt that descends modestly to my knees but goes no further. I am proud of it. It fits me! I look cute in it. My flattered vanity in this case, however, is nothing compared to the flattered vanity that is aroused when I don the silky green dress which I also purchased. I spent twenty minutes flirting with myself in the dressing room mirror at the store. It is so PWETTY! It clings to me where it should and doesn’t cling where I’d rather it didn’t. It is cool and billowy.

So anyway, yes. I spent all day in the larger metropolis near us making charitable donations to the city’s commerce, and on the way home we made the grave mistake of stopping by Hollywood Video. As it had been my idea, I was delegated to go look for the movie and to sign up for a member’s card. The movie was selected, and I began filling out the form.

I suppose I should here digress for a moment, and explain that I have neither a debit or a credit card. I pay cash for everything or I don’t buy anything; I am too stupid to function any other way. As far as ID is concerned, I have always been able to get by with a driver’s license and my Military ID card.

That is, until I arrived at Hollywood Video. They refused to take my Military ID. That is, one nice but very nervous guy said he would take it and some Witch in a Ponytail descended upon us and said, no, he couldn’t take it. She said, and I quote-“We can’t use two picture IDs.”


“We need proof of your address so we have some way to get a hold of you if you don’t pay. You need a debit card, a credit card, or a utility bill.”

“My address is on my driver’s license. If you need secondary here is my paystub, my address is on it, too.”

“We can’t take that.”

“A deposit slip, with my address and account information on it?”

Nope. Nothing would make her happy but a credit card, debit card, or utility bill.

I was in there for an HOUR arguing with her. She kept insisting it was just policy and she couldn’t do anything about it. I requested a number to call and complain; she gave it, and off I went to the car where the Deputy Headmistress, now in full MOM MODE called said number on the cellphone (The Deputy Headmistress would like to add that the Witch in a Ponytail gave my daughter a wrong number. The Deputy Headmistress had to do some telephone detective work to obtain the correct number). We sat in the parking lot of Hollywood Video while somebody from the main office put us on hold and called the employees of the local Hollywood Video and told them that a paystub with an address should be good enough. HA. So there. I went back in and finished my application with a girl named Kathy. Witch in a Ponytail stood at the opposite counter with her back to me the entire time.

Because I couldn’t provide a credit card, I have a limit on how many videos I can check out. This is understandable but irrelevant. I will probably shred my Hollywood Video card to bits and never darken their doors again.

What movie did I finally rent? Napoleon Dynamite.

AND IT WASN’T EVEN WORTH IT! I cannot believe I spent an hour in Hollywood Video arguing with Witches in Ponytails just to rent a movie that was so stupid it made Barney the Purple Dinosaur look good. At least Barney movies have a plot.

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Asking the right questions

I really haven’t followed the Shroud of Turin story much, as it’s just, like, not my bag. You know?

For those who are not very familiar with it, here’s some background:
history of the Shroud of the Turin

You should probably know that the Deputy Headmistress is an unbeliever in regards to this shroud.

However, a recent contribution to the study of the shroud did catch her interest, not so much because of the Shroud of Turin connection, but rather because of the questions it raised about asking the right questions.
Sound confusing?

Here’s the particular paragraph that pinpoints the wow factor for the Headmistress:

“The image on the Shroud is dark on a light background. Previous theories had all attempted to explain how linen could be darkened without the use of chemicals, stains, or paints. Wilson wondered if it would be possible to lighten the already dark linen, leaving only a dark image behind.”

N. D. Wilson may or may not have solved the riddle of the Shroud of Turin. The Deputy Headmistress is still, perhaps regrettably, uninterested in that question.

What she does find delightfully interesting is this demonstration of the fact that sometimes the most difficult problems we are trying to solve are only difficult because we are not asking the right questions.

To read more about Wilson’s studies, see:

Shadow Shroud

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Confidential to the Pipsqueak

…But the rest of you may read, too.
Once upon a time the Pipsqueak had a friend who had somewhat differing political views than young Squeak, and who wanted to collect silly things politicians had said. We suspect that it was really only one politico that Squeak’s friend had in mind, but no matter. We do not make political unity a matter of fellowship. We joined in the fray with delight, but soon found ourselves playing alone, as our quotes were primarily from the D. side of the playground.

With that bit of history in mind, you will understand why young Squeak should quickly click on the following link and find some interesting reading.

Bushisms or Slatisms?

Well, we can’t wait for Pip, so we share enough here to whet your appetites.
From the website:
“You would think that George W. Bush would make enough verbal gaffes that a journalist wouldn’t have to try to trick his readers into thinking that Bush is more inarticulate than he is. But Slate, under the direction of Jacob Weisberg, must come up with a Bushism of the Day to feed their feature and the cash cow of calendars and other merchandise catering to Bush-loathers. Eugene has been insightfully covering these over the last year or so.

Accordingly, on days when Bush has made no real mistakes, Slate must squeeze quotations out of context or pretend that informal, off-the-cuff speech should look on the page like edited prose.”

Incidentally, in some cases, Slate must actually take words spoken by somebody else and put them in the President’s mouth. But why are you still here? Go read the whole thing, already!

UPDATE: Broken links should be working now

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