You Got Activism in My Art! You Got Art in My Activism!

A "green" art show just opened up in Lexington titled "HOT: Artists Respond to Global Warming", where area artists wanted to "participate in the conversation about climate change" through their works.

The objective of the show was to go beyond the informational and factual aspects and allow the artists to become true evaluators of the world around them, she said. The results include numerous media -- pottery, sculpture, oil paintings, watercolor paintings, fabric, and multimedia. The exhibit is laid out clearly, taking visitors from the immediately accessible depictions of global warming to more abstract reflections of nature and the world...

It begins with Johnston's close-up photograph of a young girl's hand holding a melting chocolate chip ice cream cone. What appears to be a familiar summer scene is an image of both personal and political meaning to Johnston, the mother of two.

"I chose to use my daughter as the subject because she represents the next generation to inherit the earth. As a mother as well as an artist, I am extremely concerned about what we're leaving our future generations," said Johnston. "The melting ice cream cone represents the continuing imbalance in nature."

Imbalance in nature? It's a melting ice cream cone photo at an art show about global warming.

Issues such as pollution and consumerism are addressed in pieces like "We Love Our Cars" by Dilla Gooch Tingley, a gallery member. Using fabric, Tingley created a pristine landscape overflowing with traffic and monkeys driving automobiles.

"I was feeling very badly about the damage we've done to the earth. I'm very concerned about the choices we make as humans. I hope this show is educational and informative," said Tingley, who lives in Lincoln.

Monkeys driving cars. More skillful subtlety. Gautier is rolling his grave.

Don't get me wrong. I love art, though a few years ago, I might have been less able to explain why exactly I do. My fiancé will be finishing her BFA in December, and I finished my BS this May. Over the past couple years, I have learned a great deal about art crit and philosophy from her, and she has turned her love for animals into a deeper appreciation of biology and evolution (which is often reflected in her paintings) through my random blatherings about science.

We try to hit all the art museums when vacationing. When we visited NYC last year, the Whitney was having their Biennial, so the place was filled with the latest and greatest, as it were. I've never seen such a large collection of obtuse garbage sponsored by a relatively prestigious institution in my life. Floor after floor was lined with amateurish, beat-you-over-the-head messages - a mannequin wearing a flak jacket covered with books by Malcolm X and other black activists, the disembodied head of George W. on a blank canvas, huge collages with "Fuck the War" sloppily painted between sheets of dirty newspaper (and don't get me started on "video art").

It was a record run through the place. The only place we lingered was an exhibit featuring Calder's Circus (they had this video on repeat, which was fun to watch). Why? Because there was nothing to consider, nothing to analyze. The messages were so obvious that they trumped any marginal aesthetic value these pieces might have had.

Perhaps it's just a plain lack of skill. Maybe it's intentional. Regardless, I question the actual value it has for its intended meaning. Are the messages portrayed in these works reaching more people? Are they indeed spreading awareness or just preaching to the choir?

The artists in the Lexington show claim that An Inconvenient Truth is illustrative of how profound an impact that art can have on people. But An Inconvenient Truth is not art. Al Gore walking back in forth and climbing ladders in front of a PowerPoint presentation has little aesthetic value (for most of us, anyway), and beyond that, the film's intent is to transmit a message through detailed textual information, not through imagery or abstraction.

We value art for the way shape, color and texture arranged in patterns can stimulate senses and draw us in to the art itself, to ponder its own elements, its own nature. When other messages - including those I support, like global warming - are superimposed on a work and given meaning beyond the pure aesthetic value, the work loses all subtlety and ceases to be valuable as art.

As Oscar Wilde once said:

All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling. To be natural is to be obvious, and to be obvious is to be inartistic.

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When the ruling class loses sight of reality and subsidizes crap as art; the results of art education cutbacks in public schools and the ignorance of the public becomes a controlling factor in determining what draws public support. It's a vicious circle of the public pennies supporting public institutions; the majority demands crap because crap is all they can relate to.

Historically, artists have been society's observers; reflecting and recording. Since photography isn't art, well, that's a moot point about the shot of the melting stuff in the kids's hand. No art involved.