Monday, March 06, 2006

Guest columnist

Serena's most wonderful of sisters wrote her this letter, which was so awesome that she had to post it in its entirety.
The review & pictures from the Whitney Biennial remind me of a grim, sore-footed afternoon I spent at the new Tate in London - a lot of things that made my teeth grind, with a very occasional thing of beauty stuck off in a corner somewhere. I spent some time wondering what the people who made those things were thinking. I was sad that they seemed to live in such an ugly and disturbing world. What does it say about our era, that our "high culture" equates creepy with relevant?

It's as if they believe that our era has invented new enormities, thus the job of our art should be to process and decry them.

But I don't think there's a single terrible thing going on today that didn't happen at least as much 1000 years ago. Genocide? A long-standing human tradition, starting in prehistory when we wiped out our nearest evolutionary relatives by throwing rocks at them (for millennia, the latest archaeological records show). Natural disasters? Um, duh. Climate change? Well, the desertification and re-greening of the Sahara has been cycling back & forth since Africa got where it is today. Sure, the scale of disasters has increased, but that's mostly because our population's gone up so much. And why is that? Because people don't die of regular epidemics anymore?

People are still being sold into slavery and mistreated by their fellow humans at an unbelievable level, and I don't want to downplay how awful that is. I am glad that technology is giving the bottom rungs of society a voice, at last - like that "Born into Brothels" movie that came out last year. I think those efforts are amazing and noble and transcendent. But so much of today's "edgy" art just seems whiny and depressive to me.

Maybe we will find, given time, that all this glorification of the ugly is a developmental phase, like adolescence. Maybe in 20 or 50 years, our culture will blossom into a new kind of maturity that embraces the"ugliness" that our cameras and industrial processes have given us a new perspective upon, and finds the beauty in it again. It could happen.

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