Art Lies, Volume 1, March 1994

R E F L E C T ION S
5

Talking

C. MAURI SAFELI
In this day and age, the viewing and discussion of contemporary art
presents a challenge to established rules of etiquette. Many of the
museums and galleries that traditionally provided a haven for the ideals
of beauty and harmony are now exhibiting the work of artists who
subsume such concerns in the interest of evoking a reaction of shock
and disgust from the viewer by presenting scathing social criticism,
objectionable materials and a generally oppositional view toward
aesthetics. It is my steadfast belief that such attempts to elicit
epiphanies are morally suspicious and highly inconsiderate. The tactics
currently in use make for a heightened sense of discomfort in social
relations, but, until the current climate in the art world changes, there is
nothing for the art-lover to do but respond with unfaltering correctness
to the challenges presented therein.
The primary purpose of etiquette is to provide standards "0
of behavior that ensure the comfort of individuals when ]S j
they interact. The ability to act with self-assurance and If a
aplomb in any social situation results only from careful an
consideration of propriety. Some time ago, I began to esa e
notice the proliferation of an artistic genre that
destabilizes the very bedrock upon which our civilization rests: the
consensual acknowledgement of certain taboo subjects. I am, of course,
referring to those contemporary artworks that involve metaphorical or
literal use of the body and its products,
functions and pleasures.
of amusement or
Any attempt even to talk of such artworks in simply murmured,
mixed company presents a host of particularly display of fragrr
tricky etiquette problems. In general, the best debasement sadd
rule to follow is the less said the better. gentleman, with
However, if discussion is unavoidable, every nodded his head
attempt should be made to exhaust formal "Ah yes, this may
qualities such as use of materials, sensitivity in subtle humor and
rendering, color and compositional harmonies aimed to avoid ar
before the talk turns to subject matter. character of the m
Biographical, or even anecdotal information
about the artist may certainly be discussed so My experience in
long as it pertains to the artist's education and the visual arts in c
training or to familial, socio-economic and longer be relied u
cultural background. Such information will not where gentlemen
lead inevitably to the explicit, distasteful or might stroll with
unsanitary subject matter at hand. the intended aud
speaking only to I
I once visited a museum in New York and found their uninhibited v
a selection of casts of the male members of the
intimates of the artist. As I recovered from the Despite these que
initial shock, I noticed a couple nearby who Instead, they mus
looked as if they would be more comfortable on to give way to a
57th Street than in our downtown venue. To my observant art-lov
surprise, the lady carefully examined the work positioned to pur
and then, in a hushed voice and without a trace recovers from its

QUETTE
of Body Art

r nervousness,
"Oh, how this
mentation and
dens me!" The
mock regret,
d and replied, ,
indeed mark the end of the patriarchy!" I found their reactions admirable in their
efficacious dispersement of embarrassment. The gentleman's barb was perfectly
ny improper reference to the size, shape or condition of the cast members, to the
odels or to the process necessary to make such art-objects.
the aforementioned exhibition inspired some thoughts about the changing role of
ontemporary society. With the rise of "body art," the contemporary art world can no
pon to provide public spaces where young people might innocently court each other,
might bring their aged mothers on a weekend afternoon, where young mothers
their children without the constant threat of exquisite embarrassment. Who then is
ience for this work? I must conclude that, increasingly, artists are interested in
fellow revelers in Rabelaisian tastes. Or perhaps they wish to inspire or instruct us in
ways.
estionable artistic intentions, potential patrons cannot simply turn their backs on art.
t wait, hope and watch for the current fashion for making explicit the unmentionable
more sensitive and socially acceptable trend to take hold in the art world. The
ver will note the occurrence of the beginnings of such a shift and will be well-
rchase any art objects deemed collectable before the market for such investments
current lethargic condition.*

Carroll, Don. Art Lies, Volume 1, March 1994. Houston, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth228034/. Accessed March 3, 2015.