To the editors:
Last week's Hot Type column [November 9] about the New Art Examiner's problems in finding a printer to leave in the more salacious pictures at issue in the current NEA funding flap crystallized the entire controversy for me. Publisher Guthrie and Michael Miner seem to see it as a battle between troglodyte rural throwbacks and godlike city-bred esthetes over the artistic heritage of the Western world. I submit that the issue is more like working men and women refusing to be pushed around by some of the whiniest parasites in the nation.
The piece begins with Guthrie visiting the downstate printer and being troubled by the "Christian paraphernalia" around the plant. (Count Dracula had the same problem.) I presume Guthrie would feel more at ease if some other paraphernalia were evident; say, a shrunken head hanging on the typesetter's belt. We are then treated to the non sequitur of the month: No, this isn't Pornography, everything here has been shown in museums. Apparently contact with Official Art sanctifies even the slimiest material: if Mapplethorpe's photo "Honey" were displayed on the racks at Uncle Nasty's adult bookstore, a gang of feminists would be burning the place down. Yet a whiff of Art incense and the same image becomes downright angelic.
The entire article maintains the same tone. These rubes don't understand Art, and they don't have the grace to listen to their betters. The insufferable elitism of the whole art funding mafia is getting nauseating. I have heard more times than I care to remember how Art should be dangerous, how it should stretch our way of looking at things, how it shouldn't be comfortable. Yet one suggestion that the artists should maybe get jobs on their own is greeted with a horrified scream.
The recent failure of the censorship case against the Cleveland museum showing the infamous Mapplethorpe photos is not a triumph for the Art mafia, but a source of shame. The jurors said the pictures must be Art because the defense trotted up some Art professors who said they were. The jurors thought they were just disgusting, but since none of them had been in a museum in years they listened to the professors and acquitted.
Reviews of Art shows and performances in the Reader and elsewhere constantly refer to "Socially Committed" Artists, and shows that strip bare the shame that is Capitalistic America. But who are these people preaching to? Not the workers, not the productive members of our society. These galleries exist for the convenience of a small upper crust of aficionados who have nothing to say to the masses they claim to care for so much. They have created an aesthetic that they have totally failed to explain to the common man and woman. The working class doesn't think that Karen Finley's smearing her thighs with melted chocolate is obscene--they think it's stupid and self-indulgent. And they're right. The Art gang doesn't like the proles, and is incensed that the proles dare to object to paying for this baloney.
The objections of the printers to running New Art Examiner's pictures isn't due to their debased, fundamentalist religiosity. It is the objection of a traditional pattern of life and society; a society that has been given no reason to change by the snobbery of the Artists. Until the Artists learn to treat the rest of us like fellow humans and not serfs, they will get no sympathy from working people Downstate or in the city.
Michael P. Walsh
PS: Guthrie would be on slightly better moral ground if she hadn't tried to stiff the printer for $35,000. Maybe she can get a grant.
Michael Miner replies:
The merits of Mr. Walsh's lively letter would not have been imperiled if he'd read my column a little more carefully. It was not publisher Guthrie who spotted the "Christian paraphernalia" (nor Guthrie whom I quoted using that phrase). Nor Guthrie who stiffed the printer for $35,000 (nor has the printer been stiffed). Nor is Guthrie a "she." Otherwise, let me say only that when Walsh draws a distinction between "working people" and artists (and, by extension, the publishers and editors of threadbare little magazines like the New Art Examiner) he sounds ridiculous. If Walsh really thinks the aesthetes of this country get a free ride, someone's been working on his head.