In public terms, art so often gets bundled with other human activities, that we almost stop thinking about art as being a separate entity. Besides Charlotte's peculiar decision to bundle the funding of several arts institutions together with sports facilities into a single referendum, art is also subject to being packaged into that generalized, amorphous category, The Arts.
It's common in our town, as in many towns, for art to lose its distinction in this way. A lot of cities and their organizing bodies just don't know where art belongs. Yes, indeed, Charlotte-Mecklenburg isn't alone in this quandary about what art is and where to put it.
The perceived necessity of bundling the funding of the arts with a sports entertainment complex suggests that visual art is simply another form of entertainment. Certainly, local media compress art and entertainment into one publicity niche or production category. Is the Mint Museum of Art entertainment? And the other arts -- dance, theater -- are they simply different forms of entertainment? Social diversions to take our mind off a hard day in the office? To think so is to be a philistine, a metaphor that should resonate amongst those in our Christian-based community who know their Bible.
In terms of governmental organization, art often shares its territory with the other artistic disciplines of music, dance and theater -- the lively or performing arts -- which are often more visible. Fine instrumentation and well-practiced modern dance, of course, soar far beyond mere entertainment, even though to a certain extent, the performing arts do entertain people.
Like sports, the performing arts do require a live audience at a specific time. Without a performance hall, without directors, without a committed, regular audience, the performing arts cannot be alive. In this sense, the performing arts share something with sports. But visual art is not entertainment in the same way.
It's highly unlikely that our sports teams' owners and players have ever considered sharing their awesome spaces with other performers in the arts. Instead, sports figures, overly inflated with self-importance, tend to be over-funded men who could pay the entire year's wages of a violinist or a dance artist -- with one week's salary.
Rather than large spaces with audience seating, visual art requires long periods of quiet time for its creation; only later is space required -- for exhibition, rather than performance.
It is the rare individual visual artist who likes an audience before completing a work of art and showing in a gallery or museum. Like writers, visual artists tend to prefer their spaces to be well-lighted, personalized and individual. Solitude is of the essence.
I think that one reason art so often gets bundled with other human activities has something to do with the difficulty of defining art.
What is art anyway?
In the old days, visual art was pretty much limited to painting, drawing, printmaking and sculpture. This made the parameters of art easier to comprehend. In modern times, visual art is much more confusing to define. Lots of other media have been added to its echelon. Photography has long been accepted, and sculpture, having moved beyond using the classical materials of bronze, marble and wood, added the use of clay to its repertoire in the last century. Today, sculpture can comprise almost any material.
Folk-oriented crafts have recently been elevated to the mythic status of art: Glass, fabric and other weaving materials join the ever-evolving mixed media. Video art has become a mainstay of trendy exhibitions worldwide.
As the definition of art gets wider and wider, art itself becomes more ephemeral.
In some cases and places, performance art is part of the academic curriculum. Definitions and semantics can drag art down just as over-analysis can take all the poetry out of a poem, but the evolution of performance art is a concept worth examining. By its very nature, it's transitory and impermanent. People, places and things come together in the mind of the artist for a short time only, as in the happenings of the 1960s. Though ephemeral, performance art has interestingly joined the category of visual art rather than being in the theatrical, or performing, arts.
Defining what is art is a difficulty made easier in the minds of civic boosters and politicians by bundling. In bundling terms, art is something that goes in an art museum. This is the kind of definition that avoids the issue because it's based on the consumption of art rather than its production.
Voting Yes? Voting No? Bundling or Bonding? A friend recently reflected, If the referendum doesn't pass, does that mean there won't be a bond issue to support the arts alone? This is the question that we've been afraid to ask all along. If sports arenas don't make it in this town, does that mean the arts don't get funding either? What will happen with plans to move the Mint Museum of Art back uptown where it belongs? How would a failure to pass the referendum affect the Arts & Science Council?
Bundling in this sense is communal in a way that doesn't build community -- rather, it fractures it. This sort of bundling may encourage people to vote against something rather than for something, the kind of voting that makes cynics out of voters. Folks who believe public funding is appropriate for an art museum, but not a sports arena, may not vote at all. Is this what we want?
For some reason, Charlotte continues to endure its strange brand of self-effacement about the visual arts. As if art is something to apologize for -- rather than be proud about having -- Charlotte tends to pussyfoot around the subject. This is unfortunate, and due perhaps to some ingrained hostility toward any art that questions, probes, annoys or threatens.
The idea of supporting something that just might be construed as subversive, provocative and challenging makes some people feel apologetic, even embarrassed or hostile, about supporting art.
Making art or making sport. Which is important to you?