Art? Craft? Crap? Who Knows?
My taste in everything except beer, whiskey, and second wives is highly questionable.
My preference in literature is mostly mind candy (The Affair by Lee Child is terrific, as is Shock Wave by John Sandford). My musical selections tend toward punk-country (pick up “Keeper” by John Doe and “Indestructible Machine” by Lydia Loveless if you know what’s good for you, hoss). My choice of television programming is rude (“South Park”), and my movie collection is weighted toward flicks about giant radioactive reptiles (“Godzilla, King Of the Monsters,” the old black-and-white one with Raymond Burr spliced in, not the dreadful American remake or the Japanese original with all the nuclear-weapon messages). My idea of fashion is t-shirts and denim from Renys. My approach to interior decorating is heavily dependent on mildly salacious cartoons drawn by my friends and junk-store taxidermy. And when it comes to paintings and prints, I don’t pretend to be able to tell the difference between masterpieces for the ages and kitsch from Walmart.
Although, I can sometimes spot the Walmart stuff because it’s cheaper.
All this is to say that I would never presume to make a distinction between the lofty works of artists and the lowly output of mere hacks, such as chainsaw sculptors, mitten knitters and the editors of the Portland Press Herald.
I know my limits. Which is more than I can say for the Portland City Council.
As unlikely as it might seem, councilors in Maine’s most populous municipality are trying to answer a question that has confounded philosophers since the first cave dweller smeared berry juice, animal blood and bodily fluids on the rocky walls of his habitat to commemorate a successful hunt, after which he applied for a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts so he wouldn’t have to chase after mammoths anymore. That question is:
What is art?
The answer depends on more than aesthetics. It’s also, as with most things, a matter of economics.
In Portland, artists are allowed to set up displays on city sidewalks to sell their soul-enriching works. No permit required. No fee assessed. No inspections scheduled. Portland has to maintain its reputation as an artsy town, and artsy towns need artists out there where the tourists can see them.
Unless their art turns out to be invisible. You know, employing media beyond the range of human perception. Like trying to get your cable provider to offer the NFL Network.
But back to Portland. Its sidewalks have lately become cluttered with more than painters offering the tourists pictures of lighthouses with waves crashing on the rockbound coast or Michael Jackson in full Thriller mode embossed on velveteen. Among these culturally enhancing works, there have also appeared tables staffed by intruders who have no right to claim the sacred heritage of artists (not to mention the free use of the public right of way):
Makers of macramé plant hangers.
Medical marijuana clinics.
It’s fallen upon the Council to decide what to do about these interlopers. Ignore them? Ban them? Or relegate them to a weekly crafters market, where they can be carefully monitored to make sure nobody’s trying to hawk pictures of big-eyed kiddies or paperweights that look like cute kitties.
According to the city, art is defined by the law as painting (even that awful stuff from Walmart?), photography (even that awful stuff from Target?), and sculpture (even that awful stuff from the Christmas Tree Shops?). Everything else is either craft or crap. (Apparently, the law isn’t particularly concerned with making the distinction.)
I’d be content to leave this difficult issue in the hands of the councilors if it weren’t for their history of presiding over artistic decisions that could charitably be labeled unfortunate and more realistically termed abuses of humanity and its environment on a scale unparalleled since the sacking of Rome.
I’m referring to such allegedly artistic undertakings as “Tracing the Fore,” the spiky sculpture that adorned Boothby Square until it was removed under heavy pressure from citizens offended by the intentionally ugly.
Or how about “American Baseball Family Group,” a weird collection of human figures seemingly engaged in giving away their tickets to the next Portland Sea Dogs game because they’re disgusted with the September performance of the parent Boston Red Sox and the team’s subsequent management meltdown.
No, the Portland councilors are less the kinds of expert I’d want curating the exhibits on the city’s byways and more the sort I’d expect to find in a shady video store renting a bootleg copy of “Mothra.” (I should probably explain that I wasn’t in that store to find a movie. I was just there to do research. On art and stuff like that. Oooh, look, they’ve got “Mars Needs Women.”)
For those of you who believe the greatest artist in the world is Mother Nature herself, I have some disturbing news. This year’s fall foliage wouldn’t even qualify as craft. I mean, Walmart wouldn’t stock it.
The combination of a wet spring and early summer and a warm fall resulted in leaves more suitable for camo clothing than leaf-peeping. Not only is it drab out there, but what color can be found is a week or more late.
Officials at the Maine Office of Tourism blamed the disappointing display on state funding cutbacks, competition from foreign trees, an al Qaeda terrorist plot, interference from Republicans in the U.S. House, indifference by Democrats in the U.S. Senate and an epidemic of colorblindness caused by looking at bad art.
They promised an investigation by a blue-ribbon commission, a full report in time for next foliage season – or the one after that – and severe punishment for the parties responsible for this outrage.
Unless it really was colorblindness, in which case they’ll attempt to distract the public with some other attraction.
Like a “Gorgo” film festival.
In reality, Al Diamon knows a lot about Art, who’s his brother-in-law who made him a very nice end table to display the vase Al’s wife bought that has the weird frogs on it that have creepy eyes that follow you around the room. When Al is not disconcerted by that (not to mention disoriented by writing about himself in the third person), he answers emails sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.