Monthly Archives: June 2016

Thowback Thursday – KCAC Forum Jan/Feb 1988

KCAC Forum Magazine Jan/Feb 1988

OBSCENE ARGUMENTS
by David Perkins

In 1982, I published a special issue of Chouteau Review entitled Photographs.  The cover of that special issue was a striking nude by Kansas City photographer Richard Loftis.  The photograph apparently struck some people in the wrong place, however because several booksellers refused to sell the book.  What’s more, an elderly woman who saw it on display remarked to me, “That’s the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen.”

I dredge up this ancient incident to illustrate my own acquaintance with prudery, aesthetic poverty, and the will to censor and to make it clear that when I find fault with many of those who argue against anti-pornography forces, I do not so so without a personal understanding of what’s at stake.

It’s often been remarked that even the most righteous of combatants can, in the heat of battle, take on the worst characteristics of their opponents.  It seems to me that this is exactly what has happened in the arguments being made by artists and political liberals to counter anti-pornography forces.  This was especially evident, I believe, in opposition to the recent campaign here in Kansas City, waged by Stand Together Opposing Pornography (STOP). Defenders of free speech – in the arts and in ordinary life – are slipping into a kind of reverse absolutism we have so long struggled against.  The First Amendment has become a fetish.  Like 19th Century fundamentalists, we have set our flag on an absolute, and have closed our eyes to real life contingency, qualification, and exception.  In defense of our right way to say the truth, we have slipped into a line of argument that betrays the truth.  Fearful of being censored, we have abandoned our sense.

This is what I mean.  In argument after argument against the STOP campaign, we were warned that STOP represented censorship, that censorship is an unamerican abridgement of our fundamental right to free expression and that STOP and groups like it, must be opposed.  Superficially attractive, this argument is really and insupportable muddle.

To begin with, of course, STOP is promoting censorship. That is, it is seeking to place a control on certain speech acts.  However, this effort is not in the least unamerican, or unusual.  The Supreme Court has already held that obscenity is not protected speech.  In addition, speech is controlled in many other ways.  Libel and slander, for instance are against the law.  So are threats.  So is false advertising.  Our speech, like our other public behavior, has never been absolutely free in this society.  Indeed, it can rightly be said that “free society” is a contradiction in terms.  All societies are based upon a set of proscriptive behaviors.  We can alter those proscriptions, but we cannot wholly eliminate them; and only the most romantic adolescent would suggest that we do.

One can see immediately, then, that the STOP campaign is not all that extraordinary.  On the contrary, it is strikingly similar to efforts by other individuals who have sought to proscribe general behavior.  For instance, some individuals want to force everyone to wear seatbelts.  Other individuals want corporations to control their pollution (to exact measurement) and to pay a fair minimum wage (in someone else’s judgement).  Other individuals want the state to appropriate general tax revenues to support the arts.

In fact, every one of these efforts to proscribe the behavior of others has been successful (and many more besides).  And every one of these efforts, I am sure, is generally supported by the artists and political liberals who have argued so emotionally, in the STOP case, against “authoritarian zealotry,” against any abridgement of their natural right to absolute freedom.

There is a corollary to the argument against proscription, selectively applied, that is equally illegitimate.  That argument goes like this: If we allow the censorship of admittedly disgusting violent sexual pornography, we will “open the door” to censorship of other speech as well.  The fault with this argument is plain: There is no legislative case in which it cannot be invoked.  We cannot require fair employment laws for women or fair housing laws for blacks, because that will lead to even greater restrictions on our “personal freedoms.”  As students of political history are well aware, this line of argument has been used for decades by reactionary opponents of liberal social legislations; and for years this argument has been denounced as empty.  But if this argument was wrong for reactionaries then, it’s wrong for liberals and artists now.

There is one final illegitimate argument used by anti-STOP forces.  That is, it was suggested again and again that STOP’s insistence upon a link between pornography and sex crimes was hysterical and irrational.  But this simply isn’t true.  In fact, the hour-long television show I saw on the issue was surprisingly professional.   In it, STOP presented the thesis that pornography can lead to criminal behavior.  it then supported this thesis with documented examples.  One can argue that this evidence is anecdotal, or insufficient, but it cannot be said that it is hysterical or unreasonable.  Plainly, nearly everyone in education or in the arts believes that representation, exhortation and repetition can alter a person’s values, consciousness and behavior.  The claim of STOP is simply an elaboration of this generally accepted idea.  STOP may be wrong, but evidence, not illegitimate argument, is needed to prove it.

My point here is simple and cautionary.  The arguments for control of pornography are not wholly fanatical, or are they totally without merit; and individuals in the arts and in the liberal community are wrong to insist they are, and doubly wrong to employ illegitimate arguments to support themselves.  The woman who pronounced the cover of Photographs to be “ugly” was no hysterical quack, but a pathetic creature crippled by a lifetime of confusing moral precepts and lowbrow aesthetics.  She needs sympathy and education, not facile abuse or unsupported argument.

Good art, like good politics, is in the details. A large part of our art is in the way we do it; likewise, a large part of our liberty is in the care we take to defend it.  Serious writers and artists are defined by their will to make distinctions, by their ability to tell on thing from another.  Such individuals have nothing to gain from broadaxe and ultimately fraudulent arguments against real and serious concerns about pornography, however defined.  A serious issue demands a serious debate.  Of course the other side needs to do better. But so do we.

 

cynthia bjorn

KC Artist Lifestyle is joining in the weekend festivities with the wonderful color explosions of Kansas City painter Cynthia Bjorn (@cbjorn). Our first look at Cynthia’s artwork was back in 2013 when she had an exhibition in the KCAC Underground Gallery. Over the past three years we have had a great time watching her work evolve and getting to know her as an artist along the way. It finally hit us that we should see if she wanted to join in the Instagram fun and give us a peek into her creative process and we were thrilled when she said yes!

So let’s get started with a few words from Cynthia about her work and inspiration…

“I am inspired by moments of clarity and understanding; moments embedded with change and transition…of surrender and letting go. My strokes are quick and deliberate. My marks convey energy and power. The abstractions echo a suggestion of landscape, memory and insight. The bulk of my work is based on the emotional experience of living in the moment; with each piece informed by the past.”

We are looking forward to seeing what a week in the life of Cynthia (@cbjorn) is all about, but since we just can’t wait, here are a few images of Cynthia’s work and past Instagram images…

Bjorn_Cynthia_Image 2_AL_6_16     Bjorn_Cynthia_Image 3_AL_6_16     Bjorn_Cynthia_Image 1_AL_6_16

Be sure to follow Cynthia on her KCAC Instagram journey Thursday, June 30th – Tuesday, July 5th!

If you missed any of our previous Artist Lifestyle Artists you can always catch up on the KCAC Instagram (@kcartistscoalition) to see what has been happening or search social media with the hashtags: #kcartistlifestyle #kcacartistlifestyle

Throwback Thursday – KCAC Forum Summer 1983

In celebration of the Bangert Retrospective, a review of Colette’s work by Gary Noland:

KCAC Forum Magazine Summer 1983

COLETTE BANGERT
reviewed by Gary Noland

Only shallow observers of the Midwestern landscape dismiss it as banal and without diversity. Similarly the casual viewer will also determine Collette Bangert’s show at the Lawrence Gallery to merely reiterate the prosaic forms, shapes and colors available in the land between the Mississippi Rive and the Rocky Mountains.

Bangert goes beyond those natural barriers in her representations of the Midwestern prairie. She uses the land as a tool to organize color, line and structure; identifying in the process the poetic content and spirit of nature.

The rhythmic movement of earlier work (e.g. Land Lace Series) that focused on the effect of wind on the grasses has given way to a type of painting that records natural events on a grander scale: daily and seasonal change or decay and rebirth. As the artist has seemingly stepped back to make more general observations, her ability to simultaneously zoom in on the infinite detail in the land (through a nearly automatic form of handwriting) adds a variety to the work.

The Sun Moves West III (1983) is a large painting that refers to a sunset. The warm yellows, pinks and reds are confined to the upper right hand corner. Cool blues, greens, violets and greys dominate the rest of the surface.

The painting is divided horizontally by aggressive V-shapes that knife across the surface. Even though she applied the gestural strokes of color first, Bangert relies on colored pencils to intensify the acrylic wash and fine India-ink lines to structure and identify the color.

As the artist edges the colored areas with crisp black line, the “negative” shapes of the unpainted paper take on added significance—in effect increasing the surface activity by doubling the detail.

September (1983) is a painting about flux, change and renewal. Cool greens and yellow-greens dominate the surface. The abundant detail offers no single vantage point or place to rest the eye as is the case in nature. For example blades of grass or clouds inevitable lead the eye on to other blades of grass or clouds.

A disciplined use of color, kept very close in terms of value, unites and orders the surface. Again Bangert uses the colored pencil to strengthen the acrylic wash and the pen to direct its flow. The India-ink lines objectify, define and visually pull each color away from the surface. Yet the conformity of the value and color composition brings the colored shapes back to the surface—allowing the eye to move on to adjacent areas of the painting.

Diagonals on the right clash near the center, in a mesh of line and color, with a grid-like form on the left-hand side of the painting, symbolizing the cyclical patterns of nature.

Bangert combines color and line, painting and drawing to produce a body of work that is related as a whole, even though each painting has a personality of its own. In addition, the artist has the ability to objectify color, movement and line—allowing the specifics of landscape to have an equal footing with the essence of nature.

melissa mcgrath

We took a tiny break there, but we are happy to say that KC Artist Lifestyle is kicking back up this week with the delicate drawings of Kansas City based artist Melissa McGrath (@starwitness_). Melissa’s artwork caught our eye pretty quickly several weeks back and we knew we needed to share her world with you, so this week is all about Melissa!

Melissa received her Bachelor of Arts/Studio Art from the University of Missouri – Kansas City and now spends her work days teaching and sharing the visual arts to elementary students here in Kansas City. Along the way, Melissa continues her own art practice which often references the day to day world that surrounds her. Imagery includes her students hair, the landscape surrounding and much more.

We are looking forward to seeing what a week in the life of Melissa (@starwitness_) is all about, but since we just can’t wait, here are a few images of Melissa’s work and past Instagram images…

McGrath_Melissa_Image-1_AL_6_16     McGrath_Melissa_Image-2_AL_6_16     McGrath_Melissa_Image-5_AL_6_16

Be sure to follow Melissa on her KCAC Instagram journey Thursday, June 23rd – Tuesday, June 28th!

If you missed any of our previous Artist Lifestyle Artists you can always catch up on the KCAC Instagram (@kcartistscoalition) to see what has been happening or search social media with the hashtags: #kcartistlifestyle #kcacartistlifestyle