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“I’m an Ignorant Boob, Let me Tell You What I Think”

No… he really does begin by calling himself a boob.

Here is why it’s so hard to promote art education and a demonstration of why we so sorely need more of it all wrapped up in one ignorant diatribe.  (And also a reason why I can’t even remember what channel 60 Minutes is on):

(I found this on hatchets and skewers.)

What was the quote?… “It’s like these guys take pride in being ignorant.”  I mean, I appreciate the honesty, I guess.  However, as I’ve mentioned here before, I have first-hand knowledge of the fact that there are classes you can take in which you will learn about these things.  Some of them are online.  There are also books.

Of course, any professional in the arts who sees this video could, without effort, point out each revelation of the speaker’s ignorance − jaw-dropping mostly for it’s willfulness and its publication on a nationally syndicated show that is presumably about providing information.  Each of us who have taught art also can tell you that we face an attitude identical to Andy Rooney’s every other time we turn around.  And, therein lies the crux of the issue: those who know about art know about art, and those who don’t know about art are pretty sure that they know about art.

In summary − written without forcing myself to go back and watch it again:  Mr. Rooney opines to conflate widely divergent manifestations of the most typical form of public art (large discreet objects sitting in large open spaces), from the Picasso bull in Chicago to the myriad animals on “parade” across America’s downtowns (fiberglass animals that artists paint or reconfigure under the benefaction of often corporate sponsors, that are distributed throughout shopping/tourist areas for a short time so that people will smile at them.  Cows in Chicago, pigs in Cincinnati… ).  He criticizes Richard Serra’s (in)famous Tilted Arc while demonstrating that he probably hasn’t even bothered to read the wikipedia page on site specific installation.  Rooney then goes on to repeat clichés about artists proving they can make “traditional”, i.e. 19th century neoclassical, things before they are “allowed” to make abstract work.  He shows an image of a drawing Picasso made, probably in the 19th century.  He doesn’t bother to explain why this makes the Chicago Picasso better than an abstraction of mountains crated in tribute to Dr. King’s “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech.  It’s just that now that Picasso has made something Andy Rooney understands (a nude male backside at that!), Picasso has Andy Rooney’s permission to make art that Andy Rooney doesn’t “get”.  He goes on and on to predictably berate newfangled “modern” art, much of it decades old, as if it’s a late and surprising pox on society.

At least when Jesse Helms did that he had a false political pretenses.

And, my last contention for the day, I’m all in a rant in the first place because Andy Rooney is regurgitating what I think is among the worst of the anti-art cliches, which is that he “can’t understand” art, ergo art must be worthless.  What’s so troubling about it is that almost every artist, all but the most discursive among us, is engaged in a practice of communication.  We use a range of devices, from form to symbolism to context, that most of us have gone to great length to study, to make something that other people will be able to derive some significant thought from.  The thing is, viewers have to actually think, use their imaginations, give the speaker (the art work) the benefit of the doubt until they have sufficiently engaged the “message” (for lack of a better word).  As in Duchamp’s Art Coefficient, the person looking at the art work bears a large responsibility for interpreting it.  If you demand that a Martin Puryear look just like a Houdon, you’re missing the point just as much as if you demanded the latter look like the former.  In both cases, the failure would be on your part, not the artist’s.

And, even then, if you know you don’t get it, and you believe you should, go out and learn, study, ask, do the work of knowing, before you spout off that you’ve got all the answers.   Please.


So, if you are a person who knows nothing about art but would like to find 20th and 21st century art more accessible, I think a good place to start is Cynthia Freeland‘s book But is it Art?

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