Thursday, July 06, 2006

the politics of what other people think, 4

"Clearly the best path forward is a public relations one,
systematically changing perceptions."
I don't know when this became an answer to anything. Artists and women and people who become beholden to the public relations mind-frame are stripped of their opinions and able to speak only in irrefutable sound bites. I can't imagine anything less in the interest of art.

Art remains always, at some very basic levels, a feminist project. That is, art allows an atmosphere in which dialogues and understandings are allowed to emerge. The problem we seem to face as artists is that standing up and making a statement remains a masculine attribute, one that women are frequently dissuaded from undertaking. And "male" artists and their champions fail to notice or decide not to discuss that perception and the ability to be open and to try to understand others are all female attributes. Those are not attributes of people but of stances. Public relations is the corporatization of speech and statement making. It is an attempt to manipulate opinion through an incessant and thus nearly invisible onslaught of contrary opinions. It is an authoritarian stance with a smile.

I make no apologies for having studied primarily with women, for being influenced primarily by women, for standing in awe at work that women have done around me. I am reminded if of anything, in the debate about the Guerrila Girls and womens place in the "canon," of Bob Marley's disappointment that African-Americans didn't take more readily to what he was offering, a third-world, and world-wide movement. It turned out that African Americans wanted, instead, their piece of the pie. Likewise this mindframe would like to guarantee women artists a piece, an equal piece, of a rather rotten pie. We're not talking about getting the spirit of reggae, the dignity and beauty into schools and homes nor the streets. We're talking about women in business suits behaving like the worst of either sex.

Public Relations as a solution to getting more women involved in a corrupt and deceitful gallery system doesn't seem so much a step forward as a slap in the face. I'd say we need less Matthew Barney, much less women dressed up in Matthew Barney's attitude, and more knowledge. And that is what artists do. We provide and explore knowledge. We are already public relators. Public relations proper is allowed where art has failed and a culture over-ridden with corporations and non-think is flourishing.


  1. you know its a great lineof thinking here. I've always felt very similiar as you know and have generally credited painting's survival in the U.S. with the larger feminist project -

  2. Brian Shapiro9:40 PM

    I thought you would find this interesting. These are two excerpts from a book by the 19th century academic artist Thomas Couture. People always take the prevalance of female nudes in academic art to be made to be selling to a prurient audience. And that did happen; but in the 19th century there was a cult around the ideal of the feminine, which was very much tied to Romanticism, and the idea that women were intuitive and society's guardians of morals. This was a dramatic shift from the Enlightenment, where heroic male nudes were chosen as subjects, and women were viewed as irrational and not interesting as subjects. And the female nudes are no more conspicuous than the prevalance of male nudes in the Renaissance and ancient Greece.


    Of Woman.

    Now we will speak of woman, who is by nature eminently artistic. You will find in her the sentiment of choice in an eminent degree, an elevated ideal, sensibility, enthusiasm; indeed all the qualities of the greatest artists are found in woman.

    When you are going to take the portrait of a woman, if you arrange your model, it will never be anything but a disarrangement. Look at a woman, and you see a sublime artist; she knows what suits her, she has the melody of taste. In the multiplicity of poses she is always graceful, often adorable; she captivates you, and your sentiments in the presence of such native graces are like those that music gives you; but in a superior degree. She is a mistress of the art of grace, not only in the dance, but wherever supreme elegance is effective. The peasant Jean, who undertakes to instruct his pastor, is not more impertinent than the artist who attempts to direct a woman in the choice of the beautiful; she is skilled in the art of taste; she submits herself to the fashion and subdues it. The true woman uses fashion as a theme; far from letting it enslave her, she directs it, and through it shows her genius.

    She has, like an artist, the gift of the incessant desire to please; it seems as if she were created for our delectation: gentle, submissive, she appears destitute of egotistical instincts; all for her is summed up in one word; to please. For that she gives herself without reserve; devoted to him whom she has chosen, and always sublime in her devotion to her children.

    The greatest of our painters resembled women; Raphael, Lesueur; both had their gentleness, Raphael had their beauty.

    No one has better judgment than a woman. Study theories, examine everything, take every precaution and you find yourself deceived. A woman who does not pretend to know anything, and who appears never to look at the serious side of life will choose well. Why? Because it is her instinct.

    The governments of women have always been glorious, because queens have known how to draw around them sensible men. Men never know how to judge men; but women always judge men wisely, it is their instinct.

    We are speaking of her ideal which is without limit, she has not like man responsibility, action, execution; she remains in the domain of imagination. Never speak to her of what is or is not practical; she disturbs herself very little with your insufficiency. You ought to do everything, even the impossible, because all seems possible to her. Never being stopped in her empire of dreams, her ideal always grows more noble. Some day she will have a son; he will inherit her soul, he will understand her, through him she can have action.

    The child comes, he grows, he passes his examination. A little idle at first, he redeems himself later, for he is capable. The father is very happy, and hopes to have a lawyer in the family; it is owing to him, to his firmness, that this may take place. Ah, if one should listen to women, one would do nothing.

    The son arrives, and is sad.

    “What is the matter with you? what do you want? speak!”

    “I wish to be a soldier!”

    He has gone, nothing has been able to stop him

    Educated, capable, courageous, he has made rapid progress. One name is in all mouths, that of the glorious son. . . . What I have related to you is a true story. Do you wish to see the complement to it? Look at the corner of that table at the lady with white hair, embroidering; if her eyelids were raised you would see that her eyes were sweet and gentle. Look farther and you will see this brilliant general surrounded by his friends. . . . . There is the son . . . the action. And this mother, so modest, is the flame, the torch which kindled the whole.

    Let us stop and review what we have learned, or rather see if we understand it. Give me a resumé of what I have told you of the art of composition.

    “You have not spoken of the rules of composition, but in speaking to us of the masters and of their best works, you have made us understand what was necessary to be done. Then you have made us feel that when we have a picturesque vocabulary we ought to use it for the purpose of describing our own times; we have understood this so well that we are in haste to begin our work, that we may realize some of these ideas which charm us. These beautiful plans have not made us forget your recommendation in regard to women; we fear to think of them too much, but we are glad to learn from you that it is not a crime.”

    Bravo, my friends, you understand wonderfully, and I have not lost my time. Yes, in woman, and above all in your mother, you will find your best counselor.


    “Look,” he said to me, “at that admirable sample of the Renaissance. These lovely images recount to us the loves, and I would even say the perfidies of the chivalric world. Jean Goujon, who was their interpreter, has always represented woman and water; a great poet has said, you know; perfidious as the waves; and Francis I. wrote upon a window glass at Chenonceaux:

    ‘Woman often changes—
    He is a fool who trusts her.’”

    My literary coachman paused a moment, and a bitter expression passed over his face.

    He appeared to make an effort, and continued,

    “Egotism and perfidy appear in the productions of the Renaissance. Feminine beauty triumphs over brute force.

    “The artists of that time represented Hercules spinning at the feet of Omphale, Delilah delivering Samson to his enemies, or the mistress of a powerful Jewish king demanding of him, besotted by love, the head of a saint for her pleasure.

    “Leonardo da Vinci, another subtle interpreter, gave to his Syrens an eternal smile.

    “Woman never indulges emotions which diminish her beauty; she guards well that which is her power. Like the sea, she swallows all, and remains calm upon the surface.

    “Thanks to this egotism, the cold Diana remains beautiful at fifty. . .

  3. Thanks Brian - with this and the Post of Geoffrey's at Non-prohet Art, I have a weekend of thinking to do.