WORKING IN THE GAP
When the preacher told me that nearly everything I did was a sin,
dancing in particular, I said I didn't know why he was so down on
dancing. There is dancing in the Bible. It’s an important part of
life. I said I didn't feel dirty when I was dancing-when I'm
dancing, I’m dancing. And then I got the lecture: When some people
see you having a good time, you might lead them astray because
they might think your intentions are different. That's when I
Left the church. I said, I can't lead my life figuring out why
when any time I'm enjoying myself, it's bad.’
During the summer of 2006 I was at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena for some classes in my degree program. One weekend I took the Metro into downtown Los Angeles to the Museum of Contemporary Art to see the `combines’ exhibition by Robert Rauschenberg (1925 – 2008) `. This was a show of Rauschenberg's mixed media pieces from the 1950s and 60s, and I spent several hours learning about the different ways this artist built bridges between painting and sculpture, individual artistic mark making and found objects and images.
Rauschenberg has been described as being on the cusp of several of the important developments in recent modern and postmodern art. He is seen by some as a `transitional figure,’ moving on from (older) abstract approaches to art making, to something more engaged with the poplar imagery of the surrounding culture. He explored different kinds of mixed media, including theater, dance and performance at different times throughout his career. The work on display in the `Combines’ show drew upon his media experiments of the 1950s and early 1960s. Not only did it hint of more radical experimentation to come, it also carried traces of what the artist had put behind him.
The filmed documentary accompanying the exhibition made several references to Rauschenberg’s Fundamentalist religious upbringing and his early aspirations to be an evangelical preacher. Rauschenberg very publicly left his fundamentalist religion behind, but we can sense a more inclusive sense of moral and social purpose in his art work and also his efforts to use the arts in promoting inter cultural dialog. When an interviewer asked him to state his goals he replied that he wanted to be someone `working in the gap' between art and life. (Rose 1987)
Rauschenberg was responding in part to the previous generation of abstract expressionists. These artists attempted to pursue and express the Romantic Sublime in what they painted, and in some cases, how they lived. His combinations of found objects and popular imagery seemed a far cry from such an endeavor…He found value in ordinary things and cast off objects…and he hoped to create poetic `meaning’ out of their juxtaposition. .. In his mixed media art he combined his personally made marks and images with found objects, and pictures in ways that seemed humorous at some levels, and yet wistful at others. I thought I even felt traces and heard whispers of Biblical themes in some of these combinations and juxtaposed surfaces in his art. Even the famous (or infamous) Monogram' piece from the late 1950s, with the Angora goat that Rauschenberg `rescued' from a thrift store, and installed on a platform with paint on its muzzle and a rubber tire around its middle seemed to resonate slightly (sadly? angrily? satirically?) with the kind of imagery the younger Rauschenberg might have encountered in `Sunday School' reproductions of `Christian Art' from days gone by. In several recent presentations and talks about modern art, I have suggested such connections by projecting an image of Rauschenberg’s `Monogram' next to that of a painting called `The Scapegoat’ by British Pre Raphaelite painter William Holman Hunt (1827 –1910).
ART NEEDS NO JUSTIFICATION?
I vividly remember Hans Rookmaakers' public lecture at the Royal college of Art in London in the early 1970s. He was critiquing trends in modern art and society, but also taking time to skewer what he perceived as the maudlin excesses of much religious art. To illustrate his point, he projected an image of a religious painting from the Victorian era. This was `The Light of the World,’ one of the more famous paintings by the artist I mentioned previously, William Holman Hunt. In this painting, the Christ figure is holding a lantern and knocking on a door to a rustic cottage. This image, according to Rookmaker was a visual catalog of the problems in `Religious art'... It was cloyingly sentimental, it was overly illustrative and `preachy’ it was little more than a maudlin sermon set down in line and color. . To be fair, Rookmaaker directed his most trenchant criticisms not so much at the artwork itself, but the uses the believers had made of it since. This painting, popular in the mid 19th century, had , over the years, acquired an almost sacred aura in some pious circles and could be seen in reproductions in the homes of many of the faithful, and perhaps illustrating the Sunday school lessons read to their children.
If Rauschenberg redeemed a throwaway stuffed animal in his avowed attempt to bridge the gap between art and life, then, here, according to Rookmaaker a Christian church exhibited a failure of imagination in its choices of art worthy of the name `Christian'. Here, in Holman Hunt’s `The light of the world’ was a painting, hijacked from its late Victorian context, bubble wrapped in sanctimony and put to work in helping the `truly spiritual’ avoid both art AND life.
TO THE DEFENCE
In its day, however, this painting ultimately proved to be very popular with the British public. It even went on tour. Nonetheless it was not without its critics and detractors. Those who despair of genuine cultural engagement among Christians today can take comfort in the fact that this painting was attacked by wooden literalists who wanted to know why `The Light of the World' needed to carry a lantern. The eminent art critic and social theorist John Ruskin (1819 –1900) wrote a detailed letter to the London Times in 1854, defending the painting, and the skills of the painter. Ruskin wrote at length to make clear the spiritual and moral significance of the imagery and the symbolism of the artwork, while also giving due praise to the artist’s unerring eye for natural detail, and his skill in depicting it. At one point in his impassioned defense of the work, Ruskin writes
`I believe there are very few persons on whom this picture, thus justly understood, will not produce a deep impression. For my own part, I think it is one of the very noblest works of sacred art ever produced in this or any other age.’ (Ruskin /Herbert 1964)
In case we suspect that Ruskin was unduly swayed by the spiritual temper of the times or biased in favor of this artist we should note that he could be quite severe when turning his critical eye upon other pieces of the artist’s work. Of the `Scapegoat’ painting I mentioned earlier Ruskin wrote
`This picture regarded merely as a landscape, or as a composition, is a total failure. The mind of the painter has been so excited by the circumstances of the scene, that like a youth expressing his earnest feeling by feeble verse (which seems to him good, because he means so much by it), Mr. Hunt has been blinded by his intense sentiment to the real weakness of the pictorial expression; and in his earnest desire to paint the scapegoat, has forgotten to ask himself first, whether he could paint a goat at all.’ (Ruskin/Herbert 1964 op cit)
SO…WHO WAS JOHN RUSKIN?
Victorian art critic and social theorist John Ruskin is perhaps best remembered for his incisive analysis of the complex relationship between spirituality, culture and the marketplace in Victorian Britain. He offered a sustained and powerful critique of the economically driven social and cultural agendas of his day He lamented the declining artistic standards and the disintegration of social and personal values. All this was occurring, according to Ruskin, in the shadow of the industrial revolution. He tried to counter these trends by arguing for true(r) standards of beauty, while promoting and defending the artists and arts movements he felt had genuine merit. He also framed many of his conclusions about art and society while looking at the world around him through Biblically informed lenses.
Ruskin’s ideas about art and beauty have been influential at different times throughout the last century, and his ideas on society and economy profoundly resonated with thinkers as diverse as William Morris, Mahatma Gandhi, Tolstoy and Arnold Toynbee. It has been said that the first British Labor party to gain seats in Parliament were more familiar with Ruskin’s treatise on economics (`unto this last’) than they were with Marx’s `Das Kapital’
However, some of Ruskin's ideas on art and society also took a more practical bent on occasion. He once took a group of Oxford students, including Oscar Wilde and Arnold Toynbee, and attempted to connect two small villages on the outskirts of Oxford by digging and creating a road. Ruskin wanted to expand the student sensibilities beyond rowing boats and cricket matches....He also wanted to demonstrate `the nobility of labor' to these young men, and also the inhabitants of the villages. (Wilde 2003) While it is easy in hindsight to detect a certain ‘paternalistic’ tone in Ruskin’s approach and rationale, we have to keep him in the context of his times, and remember that his larger analysis of art and society was both astute, and comprehensive. Whether he was trying to connect two villages by building a roadway, or writing about art and society in an age of declining values, John Ruskin was also someone who attempted to `work in the gap'....but in a way very different to Robert Rauschenberg.
BUT IS IT ART?
While Ruskin’s insights and ideas were and are regarded as valuable, they did not prevent what he described as ` gathering storm clouds’ from casting their long shadows over the closing years of that century and contributing much to the confusion and darkness in the next.
Many of the social and conceptual revolutions of the twentieth century reverberated through the cultural expressions, both in the form of trenchant social analysis, and also in the various forms of avant Garde artistic expression. Settled concepts of tradition, progress, life and art were turned upside down by a number of intellectual and social revolutions, and horrendous international conflicts. Some artists attempted to creatively acknowledge the horrors of the twentieth century by offering outrages of their own. It was as if artists were attempting to rethink the purposes of art in the increasingly darkening shadow of `life.’ Some wanted to repair what they felt was the organic relationship between art and handicraft. Others wanted to suggest that abstract form and raw material were the only viable content for art in an image saturated, alienated society. Others tried to tear down the barriers between art and life, moving from confrontational theater, mixed media `happening’ and out into different kinds of performance that attempted to purify art even further by moving away from reliance on the gallery system, away from even working with artistic materials, and closer to exploring ideas in a social and public context.
When I was at art school in the late 1960s and early 1970s, I found myself in the middle of some of these historical breakthroughs and emerging trends in modern and postmodern art. It was here I first encountered the work of Joseph Beuys.
German Performance Artist Joseph Beuys, (1921, - 1986,) might have had no trouble including Ruskin’s road digging exercise under the umbrella term `Social Sculpture.’
Beuys found a way of `working in the gap’ that benefitted broadly from the modes of analysis that Ruskin and others put into motion, and also from some of the mixed media explorations and practices, traceable through the avant Garde art makers of the 20th Century…and evidenced in a different way, incidentally, in the mixed media combines of Robert Rauschenberg.. Beuys wanted to expand the idea of art so that it tapped into everyone's creativity and (latent) capacity for critical thought and social analysis. He dubbed his experiment `social sculpture' and some of his art events included lectures, discussions, performances and tree planting, all with the somewhat utopian intent of critically engaging a creatively awakened `public' in a shared attempt to bridge art and life. Beuys built upon the work of the critical theorists who dismantled the machinery that linked truth and power, as well as its corresponding market driven, sentimental `mass culture’ (Kitsch). Beuys, unlike some, did not view `art' as this privileged, self referential sphere or platform from which the artist attacked this dominant (false) rationality with pure art..,. Beuys, and some others after him, wanted to rebuild a more direct relationship with the public, and try and suggest to that `public’ that they could be informed, critical agents participating in their own transformation. However, just as we might detect paternalism in Ruskin’s efforts, some have found an impractical utopianism in some of the work and ideas of Joseph Beuys. Nonetheless, Beuys, in ways very different to Robert Rauschenberg, and John Ruskin, attempted to `work in the gap.’(Beuys 1990)
These things were at the back of my mind as I spent about an hour in the MOCA bookstore after several hours in the Rauschenberg `Combines’ show. It was here that I began to read through a book called `Conversation Pieces’ by Grant H. Kester. (Kester 2004) This book describes and analyzes some of the different ways that some recent artists had attempted to re imagine and reconstruct a relationship with a public. Later, I ended up buying a copy of the book. As I read through this book, it took me on a journey from the `self referential’ and `self contained’ art world in the gallery and museum to the attempts by some to use the arts in different kinds of community settings, such as hospitals, prisons, or with at risk groups. The author then mapped a further shift from those approaches to art-use in community to an approach in which `art’ is not `for’ a community, but in some way comes into being and is given shape because of the critical and interactive presence of a proposed community.. In some cases, the community itself is called `into being’ or is proposed by whatever it is the artist initially puts into motion. `Art’ gets redefined and reframed, as a community is engaged as participants, critical thinkers, and co creators. In all cases, the artist, is not the sole final arbiter of `the artistic value or meaning’ of the resulting work. That `meaning' arises out of the relational networks formed, and the issues explored in the context of this expanded definition of `art.’ Accordingly the artwork itself expands and overflows neat media specific or even clear cut conceptual categories. Thai artist Rirkrit Tiravanija organized a gallery show that consisted of him cooking a Thai meal for the visitors. He also initiated a large scale project that involves community living on land in Northern Thailand, meditating, engaging in creativity…a piece that involves natural systems intertwined with cultural systems intertwined with real life. Perhaps this can be seen as a model of social sculpture, and certainly a utopian one….but it is also as down to earth as road digging. Another artist, Felix Gonzales Torres, built a provisional `sculpture’ in a gallery( in one case, bags of candy) that grew and shrank as interested individuals took parts of it away, and the artist replenished it. In another example, an artist like Loraine Leeson worked with specific communities in East London, creating mixed media images based on interviews and dialog with female (migrant/immigrant) Asian clothing factory workers who in many ways find themselves `representing’ but caught between overlapping cultures. She has also worked with older original working class residents of a particular London neighborhood and engaged them as participants in describing, preserving and honoring their memories. In these cases…a meal, an expanding and shrinking sculpture of candy, or the use of mixed media to valorize and commemorate a community’s lived experience, we can see it is not a question of artistic form, `product’ or choice of media that underscores this approach, but a commitment to a kind of social engagement in which the incidental documentation, (everything from a display of dirty dishes and pots to posters of digitally composed mixed media images) is present, but complementary to the relationships formed in `real life.’
A key example Kester cites is the work of Stephen Willats, who in his book on `art and social structure’ (Willats 2000) very consciously describes the desire to move `art’ out of its self referential loop, and into conversation with local community, not in a patronizing or condescending way, but in a way intent on critically and aesthetically engaging the community in how it sees itself, and what it would like to change about its living situation. . Willats organized a team (The West London super Girls) and sent them door to door with questionnaires, got interested parties to sign up and commit to filling out a series of worksheets, and compiled a dossier on particular localities. The results were exhibited in local libraries, and generated a secondary round of interest, as well as creating new networks of affiliation and connection among neighborhoods. To an extent this resembles Beuys’ Social sculpture, not least because it takes an approach resembling a bureaucratic local government survey (or like Beuys and his classroom and blackboard) and uses it in an emancipatory, almost playful way.
Kester (and others who have written on this subject) uses examples like this to move our thinking from the gallery, past a passively recipient community, and out into the idea of a public sphere that makes room for a genuinely critical engagement. Even in these few examples, we can see, that this approach to art not an extension or variation on a stylistic or an art historical `problem’…..except the perennial problem of how to find new ways of working effectively in the gap between art and life
Nicolas Bourriaud, theorist, and author of `Relational Aesthetics’ (Bourriaud 2002) sums it up like this
`Every artist whose work derives from relational aesthetics has his or her own world of forms, his or her problematic and his or her trajectory: there are no stylistic, thematic or iconographic links between them. What they do have in common is much more determinant(sic) namely the fact that they operate with the same practical and theoretic horizon: the sphere of interhuman relationships. Their works bring into play modes of social exchange, interaction with the viewer inside the aesthetic experience he or she is offered, and processes of communication in their concrete dimensions as tools that can be used to bring together individuals and human groups' (Bourriaud 2002)
However, this approach is not without its limitations and blind spots. Critics of `Relational aesthetics’ suggest that some of its thinkers and practitioners leave themselves little room to actively criticize the dominant social order, because they have adopted much of its open terminology (networking, empowerment etc) in their attempts to frame an expanded theory of `form.’ (Svetlichnaja 2005) Also, the ghosts of paternalism and utopianism potentially haunt the fringes of some of these approaches as well, in spite of the best efforts of the artists.
It may well be that the vulnerabilities and the duplicities of the art system are fair game for the critically reflective practices by artists like Joseph Beuys. Perhaps they are appropriately sidestepped by some proposing alternative structures and re imagining of `art' as an expression of the relationships and networks within a critically awakening or engaged community. But could it be possible that `art’ as it is more traditionally understood, and `framed’ in an institutional context still has untapped potential? Does the gallery experience and the contemplation of art (as `Art’) offer anything in the (genuine) public interest?
Polish psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says that it does. He has written on the potential benefits of the `aesthetic experience’ comparing it to his descriptions of the experience of `flow’. In this `flow’ experience people are beneficially immersed in an activity (like sports or music or…) for its own sake rather than with an agenda or specific outcome in mind. They are caught up in the experience of liking what they do. (Csikszentmihalyi 1990) The psychologist goes on to suggest that the (similar) act of contemplative immersion when we view an art work might be considered beneficial in its provision of psychological integration and restoration of the person. This in turn would bring value to that person’s involvement in the larger community. Art experienced as art has the potential of fulfilling its restorative and critical role. (Csikszentmihalyi 1991)
REDEEMING THE MUSEUM?
Curator and art theorist/historian Daniel Siedell would agree with this, and goes on to suggest to us that there might be theological and historical reasons for this being true.
Siedell suggests that the early church’s use of images in the form of icons might have something to tell us about how to approach art. He also suggests that a greater appreciation of the historic traditions of the Church…notably those associated with the Nicene expression of faith might throw some light on how we can think theologically about looking at art.
As I have explored these ideas, I have tried to frame the artist or writer within their own context in order to suggest some clues as to how they formed their perspective. Rauschenberg fled a fundamentalist upbringing, but also responded to the art of the previous generation with his mixed media constructions. Rookmaaker was commenting on modern art, but also critically reflecting on the religious mindset of those that clung to the imagery of Pre Raphaelite painters like Holman Hunt. Daniel Siedell is writing in response to art/culture social theorists (Like Rookmaaker) who `use’ individual artworks as part of their dissection of a larger social and historical temper. Siedell is proposing, instead, that there can be as much value in contemplatively looking at an art object or installation in an institutional setting. To make his point further Siedell contrasts the overly diagnostic or even didactic uses of art in some church circles with the approach to images and icons in the early church. Just as there is a context and frame of reference for the icon and the receptive attitude of the worshipper, so there is also a number of factors to keep in mind when contemplating the modern art object. Some of the examples he describes in his book `work’ as an artistic totality, partially in the light of what we come to know about the ideas, process and materials involved in the making of the work. Siedell is asking us to have a spirit of receptive hospitality in our approach to some modern art. He also suggests that this open and receptive approach to the art object will be strengthened as we explore the deeper layers of our Christian heritage. (Siedell 2008)
In summary, perhaps we could take a more contemplative/receptive attitude in front of the artwork, as did the early believers in front of Icons. Perhaps some artists could distance themselves from the role of paternalistic or utopian social critic and learn something from the humble attitude of the early icon makers.
Siedell would agree with Csikszentmihalyi concerning the benefits of looking at art to both the individual and the community but would also ask us to include a larger sensed continuity with the Christian Tradition in our understanding of community…. perhaps something akin to what the writer of Hebrews intended in his reference to `a cloud of witnesses.’ (Heb 12:1)
Siedell is proposing this larger conversation of the faithful because, as I suggested above, in his opinion, some of our more recent attempts to think about art and faith have led us into some blind alleys. He points out that the emphasis on art and imagery as an adjunct to verbal and print communication is a legacy of our Protestant tradition, and might cast a shadow over our initial attempts to contemplatively look at an art object (`…but what does that tire around the goat mean??’)
While the author would not ask us to blindly embrace Rauschenberg’s stuffed goat, he would not have us (alternately) attempt to simply boil the poor creature down to a sociological or theological footnote.
And while it would be similarly reductive to merely break the `aesthetic experience’ down to a list of its social and psychological benefits, I think it is possible to suggest that between the insights of Mihayi Csikszentmihalyi, Daniel Siedell, Grant Kester and Nicolas Bourriaud we can find good reasons for looking for creative ways of `working in the gap’ between individual contemplation and transformed community relations. Art can help.
But we now live in a media saturated, globally connected `village.’ Is this a good or a bad thing for artists according to thinkers like Bourriaud?
In his recent writing he acknowledges the strains of critical theory that led thinkers like Guy DeBord and Jean Baudrillard to describe a society of alienated consumption held together by the glue of imagery and spectacle….but he refuses to view this as a cul de sac. Today’s artist, if I understand Bourriaud correctly, tacitly acknowledges there is no primary or privileged relationship with `nature.’ All signs and imagery are `second hand.’ He uses the term `Post Production’ to describe this socially constructed reality….as if it were a giant film set or media event (think `Truman Show’)Also, just like a film or media event, people collaborate in helping it all to work meaningfully. Today’s artist acknowledges this media saturated condition, and understands that `meaning’ arises out of interactions and networks of response within the community. Such an artist uses signs , images and communication systems with the same generous, open ended generative approach as an open source computer programmer, and the same tacit awareness of DJ who mixes and `mashes’ sound samples from different discs into an overall sonic event.(Bourriaud 2007)
Elsewhere, he describes today’s art maker as a `Radicant’….someone who in their artistic practice redefines ideas of rootedness, not so much in terms of historical origins, but in terms of being rooted and engaged by the context she or he is moving into.
This `new world’ Bourriaud and others argue compels us to rethink not only our methodology, but also our relationship to recent worldviews and ideas. Twentieth Century Postmodernism and related ideas about multiculturalism (is?) now being described by some as simply a late, dying phase of modernism…and in some cases, a subtle disguise for certain kinds of cultural imperialism. (Bourriaud 2009). But for the twenty first century artist, all that stuff is history.
`Finally, once the millennial clock has turned its back on the twentieth century, just maybe we’ll be able to put postmodernism into its proper perspective as the inevitable endgame of modernism. That in itself is an exciting prospect, for once (post)modernism is finally laid to rest we can really set about asking the question: what comes next?’ Keith Patrick (`Contemporary Visual Arts no 26’ ‘)
WHY ARE WE STILL HERE?
The French artist Paul Gauguin (1848 –1903 ) abandoned a life of middle class conventionality in order to find and paint an earthly paradise in the South Sea Islands. Nonetheless one of his most famous paintings is haunted by the questions about identity and purpose that he first heard framed during his childhood religious upbringing.
`Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?’
Here in the twenty first century, this side of a number of failed apocalyptic predictions, and somewhat beyond the stormy debates about post modernism and multiculturalism that rocked some circles in the 20th Century, we might still be asking those questions….and this additional one `Why are we still here?’
We are here to be what Andy Crouch calls `Culture makers.’ We can imagine new practices in the arts, and new practices in the life of the Christian community, in the light of present opportunities and freshly discerned futures. Whether we are making objects for reflection and contemplation, or working in communities to envision and enact transformation, we are called to the mission of `making culture.’
In making his plea for us to become `culture makers’ Crouch describes four ways in which the church has reacted to culture in the past. I am going to use Crouch’s observations to help sum up some of the things I have been trying to say throughout this article.
Separation: As we can see from Robert Rauschenberg’s early religious experience, some sections of the church wanted nothing to do with `culture’ as it was corrupt and of the world. These sections of the church tried to avoid contamination by steering clear of culture altogether.
Separation: As we can see from Robert Rauschenberg’s early religious experience, some sections of the church wanted nothing to do with `culture’ as it was corrupt and of the world. These sections of the church tried to avoid contamination by steering clear of culture altogether.
Analysis: For others (or perhaps, next…) analysis replaced wholesale avoidance. People like Francis Schaeffer and Hans Rookmaaker gave sections of the church fresh eyes with which to look into the underlying dynamics of the society around them. …as discerned in the art forms and expression of the day. Some of us look back now, and wonder if the exegesis these thinkers made of these cultural forms was a little too reductive. Others of us are learning that there is more to making good art than analysis and ideas.
Embrace: What some find ironic is the emergence of a Christian `pop’ subculture in the shadow of, or running slightly behind the `culture of analysis’ that Crouch describes. In fact, this is Crouch’s third category of church reaction; The religious marketplace . This enterprise might have started as an attempt at a genuinely redemptive /missional embrace of popular cultural forms. Unfortunately it now seems more like an attempt to market identifiably religious content in forms approximated from the `real ‘ marketplace, and sanitized for the Religious consumer (where are those thrift store stuffed Angora goats when you really need them?) The irony consists of the coexistence of this culture of market driven religious `product’ and the culture of analysis. All that theory was somewhat reductive in its handling of the real world, and did not prevent the growth of the market driven religious one.
Drift: This zone is inhabited by people burned out by the first three responses. They are disdainful of the `legalism’ of the first, suspicious of the `left brain’ nature of the second, dismissive of the transparent manipulation and wretched taste of the third, and therefore simply `drift with the tide’ when it comes to cultural consumption. Their spending viewing and listening habits are just like every one else’s. (Crouch 2008)
Crouch critiques all four `positions’ and proposes that we are called to proactively make culture. Crouch asks that we fulfill our creative calling to make culture and I believe it would go against the spirit of what Crouch is asking for to insist our culture making take a particular shape. I believe that museum space, gallery wall and potentially transformed community all have something to offer to our understanding of what kind of culture we can participate in making.
We are all looking for new ways of working creatively and redemptively in the gap between art and life. Perhaps we can blend the generous approach of Nicolas Bourriaud’s open source computer programmer with the inventiveness of the DJ remixing found sound sources, and further combine it with some of the devotion and humility of Daniel Siedell’s early icon makers.
It is a good thing to learn to see transformed and empowering relationships within a community as beautiful, and worthy of celebration, while also learning to appreciate the harmony of color, line and material in the quiet space of the museum.
Perhaps we can gain something from the whimsicality of a Beuys or a Rauschenberg, while at the same time be energized by the comprehensive thinking, and the down to earth practice of a John Ruskin. There are still plenty of paths to be cleared, and gaps to be bridged. And finally, perhaps Ruskin’s trenchant observations about Holman Hunt’s `The Scapegoat’ will keep us from confusing mere good intentions with genuinely creative expression.
The artist Robert Rauschenberg died last year. As I was working on this article, I went online to see if there might be anything else about him that might be relevant to what I was thinking about. I found this reference to a 1990s magazine interview.
"I don't ever want to go," he told Harper's Bazaar in 1997 when asked of his own death. "I don't have a sense of great reality about the next world; my feet are too ugly to wear those golden slippers. But I'm working on my fear of it. And my fear is that something interesting will happen, and I'll miss it."
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