GALLOPING GRANDMA: Is that art? If you say so

By on September 5, 2014
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What is art? Gallopin’ Grandma’s granddaughter eye-to-eye with a Grand Nude at the d’Orsay. 

Someone asked me to write a column about contemporary art. I think all art is contemporary at the time it was done and there is always someone standing around telling everyone how wrong it is. I’m sure that when the first caveman sat in his cave admiring his cave drawings of sabre-toothed tigers there also were critics telling him it was too avant garde, too retro or just dumb. “No market for that stuff,” I’ll bet someone said. “Too derivative.”

As a prophet is supposed to be without honor in his own land, so is the artist. When da Vinci was painting Mona Lisa, I’ll bet his mother was hollering at him, “Why are you painting that skank? You know I can’t stand her mother.” Mona is still smiling at that one. Michelangelo’s relatives probably screeched “put some pants on that statue!”

I had a friend who was Jackson Pollock’s cousin. Jack was a world-class drunk and who knows what those splats and drips were, but someone stuck them up on a wall and paid millions for them. I understand that people pay big bucks for something a zoo elephant painted, picking out colors and holding a brush in his trunk. I guess if you like it, it’s art, and it doesn’t matter who painted it.

Many of you know that I came from Corn Cob, Iowa, out among the cornfields and pig farms. You can find art there too (no, pigs don’t paint). Anyway, the Wednesday afternoon Ladies Art League from Silo City took a tour to Des Moines to see modern art. They all wore their hats and gloves except for the bohemian types who wore shawls, beads and Birkenstocks.  “We live for art,” they said.

First they saw a white square with a red dot on it, then a yellow square with some stripes and dots. Then, there was something like a pile of underwear dipped in plaster. They thought Magritte was odd, but he was French. There was a room full of really big, fat ugly nudes and they figured if they wanted to see that, they could take off their clothes and stand in front of a mirror. They saw Mapplethorpe, but wondered why all the pictures were of men. A picture of a soup can, a Campbell’s one, mystified them at that.

The ladies all decided that their favorite artist was still Melba May Murch. She specialized in clown paintings on velvet and besides; she was president of their group. She said her soul was consumed by art; it was her life. They all thought that was so artistic, a true artiste.

I will close with a brief illustration of artistic fame and marketability. Some years ago a famous artist came to town to teach nude drawing (the models were nude, not the artists.) We were all there looking at the nudes and our group included a little girl and a dog. Someone brought in a big beach ball for a prop and the little girl said, “Naked people will be touching that ball.” And they did.

Everyone painted a naked man with a beach ball and most paintings were terrible, but one was quite good and the artist took it home. To make a long story short, lots of people liked that painting and wanted one. Copies and prints were made and soon the whole country was plastered with naked men pictures. A rich man bought the original for a lot of money and donated to a museum for a tax break. Now it’s behind a velvet rope and crowds come to see it. Some are overcome and weep, some just stare and some say, “This is it?”

That is the art business. Tell them what they think they want and they’ll go see it and maybe even buy it. But is it really art? Yes it is.

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