Friday, September 29, 2006

Thus We See How Reporting Merely Stage-Sets Editorials

It appears that yesterday's Harless piece on some hidden MAC controversy was nothing more than a lead in for today's NCP editorial against committee process in choosing art. But it is such a weak argument. This is the best the editors can muster:
[T]he [Metro Arts] commission must realize that there will be citizens who will look at the pieces — for which they paid with their taxes — and shake their heads. They will undoubtedly wonder why — at the very least — they could not have seen the proposals of the eight semifinalists and offered some feedback.
Right. So instead, let's just erect the ubiquitous Stratocaster or the portly Junior-Samples-in-bronze to keep some citizens from shaking their heads. The editors are going to have to give a better argument than head-shaking for converting procurement to a popularity contest.

My guess is that there are a number of shapes and forms in public spaces that citizens shake their heads at, but does that mean we should stop allowing their fellows who are artistically or architecturally trained from representing them in these important processes? When the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in our nation's capital was first built, I remember a good amount of head-shaking being done, because people did not understand its lack of literalness beyond the literal names of those who died. Yet, now that "wall" is one of the most visited, most beloved (because it is the most honest?) memorials in Washington. Would the public have directly approved of it beforehand? I doubt it.

The truth is that there have always been citizens who shake their heads at art in its many forms. I shake my head at lots of different art pieces, but that doesn't mean that I'm arrogant enough to believe that what I may not prefer is devoid of significance just because I fail to wrap my mortal coil around it. I don't expect to like every piece of art I see, but someone else might, and what is important is balance among competing ideas rather than barren popularity. The NCP editors obviously fail to grasp that. They also fail to grasp that the more open the procurement process becomes to the public, the more special interest groups instead of individual citizens rush in to influence that process, and we end up with another set of elites--who usually have lots of money but little or no fine arts or design training--telling us what we will look at in the public square.

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