Lou Harry's A&E

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The Value of Controversy?

December 11, 2007
“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.


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.

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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.
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