I mentioned yesterday that I'd been to Grounds for Sculpture in New Jersey. Not all of their work is outdoors. There are small indoor pieces too.
Above is a snapshot I took of something I saw in an exhibition hall. The question I'd like to pose for you is: Is it art or not? And if not, why not?
And if I'm allowed to grouse . . .
Did everybody notice that Shirley Jackson made it into the Library of America, the closest thing this country has to an official literary canon? And how about that review in the New York Times Sunday Book Review?
It really ticked me off.
Essentially, the review is a pathology. It says: Here's what was wrong with Shirley Jackson, and how it defines everything she wrote. It ends with a brief discussion of Merrycat, the protagonist of We Have Always Lived in the Castle, who in the concluding judgment:
. . . manages to turn her crumbling family home, where she lives with her sister and her dotty uncle, into a pure expression of her own childish and profoundly unstable personality, a playhouse of disturbed dreams. It’s a place for her to hide, deep in herself, safe from the sinister encroaching of the outside world. In a way, Merricat’s crazy house is where writers go when they write, that quiet spot where nothing is ever as peaceful as it seems. It’s where Shirley Jackson went, anyway, and where she stayed, the scary place that felt like home to her.Now, I understand that in today's celebrity culture, all artists are judged by gossip. But this particular riff is even more pernicious than that. It's a late survival of a sexist explanation of why there are women artists of genius when clearly there shouldn't be.
Here's how it goes: Genius, whether literary or artistic, is a primal force, extremely powerful and even destructive in nature. It takes great strength to contain it within a human being. Men have this strength but women, being the weaker sex physically, morally, and intellectually, do not. Sometimes one will suffer the misfortune of having genius and it will inevitably warp her into something ugly and unhappy and inhuman.
This is not my theory, remember. I think it's self-evident horse hockey.
But it's something that was endemic to Academia for a long, long time. It's the reason why women were discouraged from going into the arts. To protect the poor little dears.
There was a story I heard several times when in college that upon hearing of Sylvia Plath's suicide, Anne Sexton had in a rage accused Plath of stealing her death. It was always told approvingly, and never by women.
Yeah, okay, being human we're going to gossip about Jackson, the same way we do about Dylan Thomas or H. P. Lovecraft. But it's wrong to define the art -- which is the best thing about any of us -- as a subset of the gossip. Shirley Jackson wrote brilliant and enduring works and the appearance of her Library of America volume should be the occasion for a joyous celebration of them. With cake and multicolored balloons.
We can always be catty after the party's over.
Above: It is and isn't art. The tubs were put out to solicit contributions from the public of found objects that the Grounds for Sculpture's current artist-in-residence can use to create a new piece. Looks a lot like art already, dunnit?