|The Cleaning Lady, Art and Class
||[Oct. 18th, 2014|11:22 am]
This is a hyperrealistic sculpture in a museum in Germany somewhere, brilliant, I'm not sure who the artist is .. photo found online
In a discussion about painting I recently said that the goal of the artist is to make a work so impressive that even "the cleaning lady is floored" .. ie the true work of art can impress even the philistine. Soon after I said it, though, I wondered if it is true. It sounds grand, but the truth is perhaps the opposite: that true art is for an elite, for the aesthete and the connoisseur - they are the one who care about it, pay for it and pay attention to it and, when wealthy, are in the position to protect it. The problem with my cleaning lady slogan is that the cleaning lady (ie the poor and working class) doesn't really care about "fine" art. Some cleaning ladies do, of course, but its also true that we need to be trained to recognize excellence. This should be the role of education.
On the tram in Prague, or any major city, one encounters the working class. I saw a group of rough-necks from Ostrava last week on the number 9 tram. Their local slang is ribald in its degeneracy, "f*ck" and "p*ssy" pepper every sentence. They spend most of their waking life drunk or in the process of getting drunk. Or so it seems. Do they care at all about art? I've heard that the working class retained a certain cultural background before WWII, people spoke about Virgil and Homer in those days. Under communism, intellectuals and dissidents were thrown into rough jobs and worked along side the working class, there was some cross-pollination. Larks on a String (Skřivánci na niti), the Menzel film from 1968, based on a story by Hrabal, testifies to that time, as well as acting as a metaphor of the world as a garbage heap (this is the spectre that haunts Central Europe, ie that we live in a trash can). But today I think, in our eternal economic malaise and "austerity", the main emotion of the working class towards the wealthy, or rather towards culture and intellectualism, is one of resentment. There is a tension between the poor and uneducated and the intellectual elite. And for many art itself is just a mechanism to escape the impoverished world and rise up to some glittering beautiful place in the clouds. It has always been thus. I feel some kinship with the disenfranchised and the dispossessed. I float somewhere close to that level myself but I don't believe its time to let the cleaning ladies decide what is art.
Bakunin, I believe, once quipped during the revolutionary year of 1848, to take the art from the museums and place it on the barricades. If we took the treasures from the Louvre and exhibited them in the street, how long would they survive? The Mona Lisa would be ripped to shreds. Art, or rather painting is frail, and it depends on a certain level of civilization. More and more today all our culture becomes 1s and 0s, just bits to be processed, and in this great leveling, it loses its value, it becomes degraded. Any one image can not compete against the deluge, or sewer of images that bombard us daily. In the days when the only great images were the ones in the cathedral, when a Caravaggio or Van Eyck stood upon the altar, those were the times when the poor dropped to their knees before the image, when it thrilled and enlightened them. But we live in a world where images are turned against us. They obfuscate more than they reveal. Its quite difficult to make images in such a world. We need a cleaning lady, some great mother, to come along and clean it all up. Or rather in these modern times, we scurry like bugs in the rotting mattress of the world. Enjoy the anarchy of it.