The Value of Controversy?

December 11, 2007
Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share
“As long as artists are at liberty to feel with high personal intensity, as long as our artists are free to create with sincerity and conviction, there will be healthy controversy and progress in art.”

That line isn’t from Michael Kammen, the Pulitzer Prize winner whose book “Visual Shock: A History of Art Controversies in American Culture” addresses such matters. But Kammen does use that quote in the book (I’ll tell you in a minute who said it).

Kammen’s book is a compelling read, giving some historical perspective to recent battles. It’s good to be reminded that Thomas Eakin’s painting “The Gross Clinic” and even the Washington Monument were controversial in their times. 

My question for you is: How useful is controversy? Do protesters outside an arts venue or condemning editorials in print and online help sell tickets? And what’s the downside? Finally, how tolerant is Indy of artists who dance on or toward the cutting edge? Are artists limiting themselves here in Indy because of the such concerns? We asked some local arts professionals to get the conversation started.

Thoughts?

Oh, by the way, the quote above isn’t from an arts wonk and it’s not justification offered by the likes of Karen Finley or Andres Serrano. President Dwight D. Eisenhower said it in 1954.

To suggest a topic, send a note HERE

Oh, by the way, we still have a few tickets left for the IMA Night at the Movies sneak preview of “The Savages” on Monday, Dec. 17. E-mail me at lharry@ibj.com if you’d like a pair. Supplies are, of course, limited.
ADVERTISEMENT
  • My favorite comment about controversy in the arts is “Theatre that fails to offend anyone is theme park entertainment” (forgive me because I am paraphrasing and I’ve long forgotten the speaker).

    Art that discusses ideas is by its nature going to offend someone, because issues have more than one side. Political debate has become so polarized in this country over the past decade that we have lost the ability to listen to each other and compromise.

    And our media have become so narrowly focused that we do not have to tolerate hearing an opposing point of view (Conservative? Watch the news on networks with a conservative slant. Liberal? Switch stations to a more liberal viewpoint.).

    Since no one wants to even listen to something they don’t agree with, artists who deal in issues limit their audience – whether here in Indianapolis or anywhere. It’s a trade-off: be authentic to your artistic voice or maximize your reach.

    Tom Robertson
    Development Director, Phoenix Theatre
  • Controversy is exciting by nature. When we were picketed by hundreds of members of the Bread of Life Baptist Church congregation, during our production of Terrence McNally's Corpus Christi, we were sold out for the entire original run of the show and extended it as long as actors'
    schedules permitted. We were the top news story on all major local TV stations for a solid week and even made mentions on Dave Letterman and The Tonight Show. This is good. However, as a result of this production, there were funders that would not even even accept requests from us for grant monies and one extremely vocal member of the City Council wanted us to be banned from arts funding altogether. This is bad. It has been my experience in dealing with Hoosier audiences, that while a healthy, Mid-Western, conservative Christian upbringing may have its perks, open-mindedness isn't necessarily one of them. Thanks though for letting me know why my Mother was always chirping I like Ike!' in the1950s.

    Ron Spencer
    Theatre on the Square
  • Most great art was born in controversy, from the naturalism of High Renaissance depictions of the Holy Family to the raw edge of Caravaggio’s Old Testament scenes to virtually every other breakthrough in art history. The tide of indignation that greets innovation is not limited to art—those predisposed to abjure change of any kind are always waiting in the weeds. But selling tickets is not at the core of what museums, at least, should look to do. Museums should be prepared to present art of any place or time that it feels is deserving of public notice, and should do so with an artistic compass, not one based on presumed popularity. Reinforcing the obvious should be left for others who are seeking to profit from offering up the most palatable solutions, while art galleries, museums, and other places espousing creative freedom should not flinch in the face of a potential outcry.

    I’ve found Indy to be very tolerant and accepting. I faced much more bigotry and sanctimonious behavior in Manhattan over the course of three Whitney Biennials, more political pressure, and more cynicism. If there’s a downside to presenting artworks that may raise the blood pressure of some visitors, it’s their alienation from everything else we have to offer. But in the long term, much of what was initially decried in art is now iconic, so here’s to patience, and to open-mindedness in the short term.

    Maxwell L. Anderson
    The Melvin & Bren Simon Director and CEO
    Indianapolis Museum of Art
  • I think in today's climate there is a large portion of art patrons that simply want to be entertained. For many it is not about what ideas lay beneath. It's simply about the aesthetic qualities, the pure emotion and sensation that the art form invokes.

    Patrons, sponsors, donors, artists, they all want the freedom to be able to appreciate the art for what it means to them specifically. And I think in this area all of the above are very tolerant of the others' view.

    I believe we are very lucky for this to be the case in Indianapolis.
  • Above posted by Marketing Director to the Indiana Ballet Company

Post a comment to this blog

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT
  1. Angela IS the best RD

  2. We are a nation of speed. All of our younger lives are filled with deadlines, quotas and bottom lines. We start to ease out of the pressured rat-race when we finally see "retirement." The most enjoyable travel on the planet is passenger rail service. Indy to Chicago does not beat Megabus or Southwest Airlines in speed. Passenger rail however has the best seating, mammoth legroon, seat backs that recline to more than 45 degrees and employers that really want you to return as a customer. Indiana municipalities need to maintain subsidies to support this transportation mode. Losing it is loss for all of us.

  3. Good day! I just want to testify how i got my loan from Mr. Eric Lefkofsky after i applied several times from various loan lenders who claimed to also testify right in this forum,i thought the testimonies where real and i applied but they never gave me loan. I was in need of an urgent loan to start a business and i applied from various loan lenders who promised to help but they never gave me the loan. Until a friend of mine introduce me to this popular Mr. Eric Lefkofsky who promised to help me and indeed he did as he promised without any form of delay. I never thought there are still reliable loan lenders until i met Mr. Eric lefkofsky who indeed helped me with the loan and changed my belief. I promised to share this testimony after I got my loan. I don't know if you are in any way in need of a genuine and urgent loan,free feel to contact Mr. Eric Lefkofsky via their email{grouponfunding@hotmail.com}

  4. Its a THUG issue. Bleecker Street and NYX are thug bars. They attract thugs of all races. Places that attract thugs need to be kicked out of Broad Ripple. Ain't nobody got time for that!

  5. Hello everyone, My name is Marian Gareth, I am from the Texas, United State, am here to testify of how i got my loan from Mr Andre Frank {frankloancompany@yahoo.com} after i applied Two times from various loan lenders who claimed to be lenders right in this forum,i thought their lending where real and i applied but they never gave me loan. I was in need of an urgent loan to start a business and i applied from various loan lenders who promised to help but they never gave me the loan.Until a friend of mine introduce me to Mr Andre Frank the C.E.O of Andre Frank Loan Company who promised to help me with a loan of my desire and he really did as he promised without any form of delay, I never thought there are still reliable loan lenders until i met Mr Andre Frank, who really help me with my loan and changed my lief for better. I don't know if you are in need of an urgent loan, free feel to contact Mr Andre Frank on his email{ Frankloancompany@yahoo.com} for help

ADVERTISEMENT