Art for the Sake of Conversation or Controversy?

The American Flag as Art making a statementIn its broadest sense, conventional wisdom considers art as taking an idea out of the air and creating something that didn’t exist before.

Susan Crane, an art student at the University of Maine in Farmington put American flags on the floor of a museum as a way to “make a statement.” She said she did it to “spark conversation and thought about how we really feel about our flag.”  She went on to say that about 95-98% of the people who came to see her exhibit didn’t walk on the flags.

The president of  UMF, Theo Kalikow, defended the display and said in a statement, "Art in all its forms is important. The anger that was experienced today. Students push the boundary of what learning is. First Amendment rights, freedom of expression. We share in a state of expression."

However, I guess only a select few have First Amendment rights. When Charlie Bennett, commander of the American Legion 4th District and a Vietnam Vet, a man who fought and was prepared to lay down his life for the ideals that the flags stand for, started picking them up from the floor, college administrators warned him to stop or he’d be arrested.

In another story, Yale art major, Aliza Shvarts wanted to spark conversation about “the relationship between art and the human body” by documenting nine months of self-induced miscarriages. Ms. Shvarts told the college newspaper that she artificially inseminated herself with a turkey baster “as often as possible” with donations from guys she knew (she said she asked them to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases) and periodically took herbal drugs to force her body to abort. She then video recorded the results as well as preserved the collected blood from the process.

It was later found out that the whole project was a hoax. The student was never pregnant and the blood she exhibited was nothing more than regular menstrual flow. And what do you call it when an art exhibit premise is exposed as false? Performance art, of course.  In a released statement, Yale said that the exhibit was a work of "creative fiction.” "Ms. Shvarts is engaged in performance art," Yale spokeswoman, Helaine Klasky, said. "She stated to three senior Yale University officials today, including two deans, that she did not impregnate herself and that she did not induce any miscarriages. The entire project is an art piece, a creative fiction designed to draw attention to the ambiguity surrounding form and function of a woman’s body." The spokeswoman went on to say that had the project been real, it would have “violated the basic ethical standards and raised serious mental and physical health concerns.”

Now, I’m not going to wade into the whole “Is this art?” debate. (Although if they were getting federal grant money to support them while they do their art, then I have some very strong opinions on that.) But notice the similar language between the two. They want to “create a dialogue”, or “make a statement”. This is when my bullshit meter goes off. I say they want fame. They want notoriety. And the only dialogue that really goes on when stories like this surface is how disgusting and reprehensible it is.     
I once heard a story about Eve Ensler, the writer of the play The Vagina Monologues. She has said in interviews how her play would help women everywhere and open a dialogue. The play came to a sleepy (what elitists would call “unsophisticated”) town. A local reporter breathlessly asked a woman, if she intended to see this empowering play. The woman replied, “No. I don’t see how having a bunch of women on a stage saying the word ‘vagina’ is going to help any body.”

It kinda puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?


  1. says

    I don’t think that the American flag exhibit can prove anything about respect for the flag. If I were attending this exhibit, I would avoid stepping on the flag because it is private property, and to step on it would be careless and disrespectful. This says absolutely nothing about my level of patriotism.

    It bothers me when anyone makes a claim about a finding when the testing ground is so obviously vulnerable to bias and misinterpretation. Does not stepping on the flag equal patriotic respect or merely respect for someone else’s property?

  2. Lisa Pawlowski says

    When it comes to flag etiquette, a corner of the flag touching the ground is a no-no. So when the artist purposely put the whole flag on the ground it could be construed as a slap in the face, or lack of respect, for those who are very patriotic.

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