Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Faculty Throwdown, Art Event review

The crowd surrounded the two benches like spectators surrounding the ring at a boxing match. The contenders were introduced in much the same way. In one corner you had Colby Caldwell (Photography & Digital Media) and Billy Friebele (Digital Media), in the opposite corner Joe Lucchesi (European & American Art) and Lisa Scheer (Sculpture, Writing & Art Theory). After the announcer explained the rules, the 2010 Faculty Throwdown was about to begin!

In the first round, the question under discussion was: True or false, Art is the moral compass for society? Money was suggested as the true moral compass for society. Money makes the world go ‘round, and even artists “sell out” and take money because they need it to continue their craft. It was countered that feeling, not reason was the basis for morality, and feeling cuts through the superficial materiality of money.

I feel that creative artistic expression is something that can only be done when you have the time to do so. In order to have leisure time, you need money to facilitate things like buying food and supplies. Money can act as the moral compass of society because money is society’s way of stating, indirectly what it finds to be valuable.

In the next round, the question was: which is more important in the defense of Freedom: Guns or Art? Both sides of this debate brought up several interesting points. It was argued that in simple dollars spent, weaponry far exceeds any other government expenditure, which was countered by the point that debates over art are much louder than debates over defense. The point was made that art has almost unlimited purview, whereas the defense of weapons, like handguns, is much more limited, which was countered by the argument that WMDs were still of a great concern, that weapons drive society, art drives academia.

For this question, it is much harder to pronounce a clear winner. Weapons can protect us physically, but Art protects us mentally. It’s impossible to express yourself with a gun at your back, but without a gun to protect yourself, that can very well be what happens. In the end, however, I would have to side that Art is more important in the defense of freedom, but you have to be free enough to be able to express that freedom.

The third round dealt with limits of free speech concerning visual art. With no limits on free speech, art can be used to promote hate speech, but community standards are more exclusionary that inclusive. Without limits, there is no difference between the gallery wall and the bathroom wall, but with limits, the issues that are highlighted by art are less likely to be discussed.

This round of debate was another tough call. John Stuart Mill states “An opinion that corn-dealers are starvers of the poor, or that private property is robbery, ought to be unmolested when simply circulated through the press, but may justly incur punishment when delivered orally to an excited mob assembled before the house of a corn-dealer, or when handed about among the same mob in the form of a placard.” Essentially, what Mill is saying here is that context is very important to when and how views are expressed. Art is bound to offend someone, somewhere, and when that happens it is important to debate the issue and get to the root of the problem. It is problematic when art is meant to shock or offend, and there is no such debate that takes place, because there ought to be. Ultimately then, I would say that there should be no limit on the freedom of expression of art if a discussion of the issues raised by that art can take place.

The next round asked each participant to name, in the last decade, which work had the greatest impact of society. In this round, one debater chose, James Turrell’s Roden Crater, because it was the embodiment of how art shapes the Earth, the Earth connects to the mind, and connects us to prehistory. Shepard Fairey’s Barack Obama "Hope" was the next work to be cited, because of the extreme significance of the image and its incredible dissemination into the popular culture. Stephen Colbert was cited as the greatest performance artist, because he is able to take issues at present them in a way that will promote discussion and thought about them in a way that does not immediately exclude anyone. Lastly, The Holy Virgin Mary, by Chris Ofili was chosen as an important work because it caused debate over the public funding of art.

I would have to say clearly that Barack Obama Hope has had the most impact on society over the last decade. Art is meant to be seen, and no piece of art has done so more than Hope. Colbert would be a close second, because he is seen and he does promote discussion, but he ranks second, because Hope was disseminated so quickly to a huge audience, while Colbert is seen by people who have access to Comedy Central.

The second-to-last question in the debate was: Can Art ever be divorced from Politics? It was argued that even having no position is, in itself, a position. When we can’t respond to something in a framework, it’s prepolitical. It was also argued that the real question here was what sphere should art occupy? Should it be public or sequestered, and can society and art exist without serious conflict? My opinion is that both politics and art are social expressions of the people, and that unless there’s complete agreement, there’s always going to be conflict over art in politics.

The last question dealt with what the role of intentionality was in Art. It was argued that intention is important to understand on the receptive side, and that intention was important to understand as related to context. Both points of view here are equally valid, and I am not of an opinion on either of them (which means that I hold an opinion anyway)

At the beginning, 4 Professors entered, and at the end only 1 left alive. Professor Colby Caldwell was pronounced the master debater, and gained the bragging rights he so rightly deserved. The Event as a whole was a great success that should gather crowds for years to come, and if I wasn’t graduating, I’d come back for this event next year.

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