Sights of Contention :
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Frank H. Prouty and Melanie Reising (Cincinnati) were the prosecuting lawyers;
Louis Sirkin and Marc D. Mezibov (Cincinnati) were the lawyers for the
defense. I would like to thank Marc Mezibov of Sirkin, Pinales, Mezibov
& Schwartz for his assistance and for explaining matters of law.
Five photographs were brought in as evidence for the
charge of "pandering obscenity " and two for "the display of minors in
a state of nudity." The museum was found innocent on all charges (Oct.
Miller v. California, 413 U.S. 15 (1973), determined that artworks
should be viewed as a whole, not in part. In other words, one cannot take
a page out of a book to determine obscenity.
The representatives of the art field were (apart from Barrie): Jacquelynn
Baas (Director of the University Art Museum at the University of California
at Berkeley), Martin Friedman (Director of the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis),
Evan Hopkins Turner (Director of the Cleveland Museum of Art), Robert Sobieszek
(Curator of Photography at the George Eastman House), and John Walsh (Director
of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu).
Jane Merkel, "Art on Trial," Art in America 78/12 (Dec. 1990), p.
45. The judge ruled that the photographs could be discussed as individual
works of art. Had the defense not won the case, the judge's decision would
certainly have been cause for appeal.
Arthur C. Danto, "Censorship and Subsidy in the Arts," Bulletin of the
American Academy of Arts and Sciences 47/1 (Oct. 1993), pp. 25–61.
I would hardly presume to challenge Danto on his interpretation of Immanuel
Kant, but to lay the demise of the museum profession on the doorstep of
Kant is, I feel, extreme. It was, however, not so much Kant who should
be critiqued, but rather the neo-Kantian tradition of art interpretation,
beginning in the early twentieth century. For a discussion, see my article,
"De-Scribing Formalism: The Legacy of Wölfflin's Language of Representation
and the History of Experientialism," Assemblage 23 (1994). See also
Michael Podro, The Critical Historians of Art (New Haven:
Yale University Press, 1982).
Danto, "Censorship and Subsidy in the Arts," p. 38. Danto's attack on formalism
is in itself hardly new. In 1982, Thomas McEvilley summarized some important
points in "Heads It's Form and Tails It's Not Content," an article that
exposed the troublesome ambiguities of formal descriptions and their problematic
evasion of content (Art Forum xxi/3, November 1982). But even by the early
1980s formalism was no longer the dominant discourse in art historical
scholarship. Terry Eagleton's Criticism and Ideology—dealing with
literature—was already eleven years old, and Northrop Frye's monumental
Anatomy of Criticism was twenty years old.
Danto, "Censorship and Subsidy in the Arts," pp. 36–37. Danto's celebration
of Mapplethorpe is, of course, an important step in the legitimization
and recognition of gay art, but what still needs to be attempted is a gay
critique of Mapplethorpe—even if that means that his work has to be removed
from liberal patronizing.
Ibid., p. 41.
Bernard of Clairvaux, Apologia ad Guillelmum, in Patrologiae
Cursus Completus, ed. J. P. Mingne, 221 vols. (Paris: Migne, 1884–94),
182:91ff. For an English translation of relevant passages, see Cecilia
Davis-Weyer, Early Medieval Art, 300–1150: Sources and Documents
(Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1971), pp. 168–170.
Transcript of proceedings, City of Cincinnati v. Contemporary Arts Center
and Dennis Barrie, Hamilton County Municipal Court, Hamilton Ohio Criminal
Division Case Nos. 90CRB11699A,B, vol. 1, 1990, pp. 28–29.
Ananda K. Coomaraswawy, "Why Exhibit Works of Art?" Journal of Aesthetics
and Art Criticism 2/3 (1941), pp. 27–44.
Mark Twain, A Tramp Abroad (1880); cited and discussed in Leo Steinberg,
"Art and Science: Do They Need to Be Yoked?" Daedalus (Summer
1986), p. 11.
Merkel, "Art on Trial," p. 47.
Transcripts of proceedings, vol. 2, p. 41.
Danto, "Censorship and Subsidy in the Arts," pp. 36, 37.
Ervin Panofsky, Meaning in the Visual Arts (Chicago: University
of Chicago Press, 1955), p. 11.
Danto also overlooked the capitalist underpinnings of contemporary art.
Few museumgoers have a clue, however, as to the highly selective nature
of the museum experience. We are led to believe—and want to believe—that
the museum is transparent in its motivations and that it works purely for
public service. The great success of the modern museum, however, lies in
how well it shields the public from the urgency of the art marketplace.
Whether an artwork is truly great cannot be ascertained in the context
of the museum alone, as the definition of "greatness" is constructed by
the museums, art critics, and investors. The modern aesthetic (museum)
experience, whether we like it or not, is an artifice, and to ignore that
fact, even in the case of Mapplethorpe—the price of whose photographs rose
dramatically after the trial—is to harbor a naive idea about the relationship
between art and "the people." Danto, however, sensed no disjuncture between
the museum experience and the aesthetic experience. On the contrary, he
wanted his experience to betoken his liberalism and willingness to accept
an art even if it makes him uncomfortable, for like all "good Americans"
he understands the importance of "freedom of speech" and thus the importance
of seeing Mapplethorpe in a museum.
Danto, "Censorship and Subsidy in the Arts," p. 41.
Merkel, "Art on Trial," p. 47. See also Kim Masters, "Obscenity Trial Asks:
'Is It Art?' " Washington Post, Oct. 2, 1990, E3, col. 5.
Quoted in Robin Cembalest, "The Obscenity Trial, How They Voted to Acquit,"
Artnews 89/10 (1990), p. 138.
Transcript of proceedings, vol. 1, p. 14.
Masters, "Obscenity Trial Asks: 'Is It Art?' "
Transcript of proceedings, vol. 1, pp. 15–16.
Ibid., pp. 16, 23–24 .
Clement Greenberg, "Avant-Garde and Kitsch" (1939), The Collected Essays
and Criticism, vol. 1 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
1955), p. 9.
For a discussion of Thomas Ernest Hulme, see Stanford Schwartz, The
Matrix of Modernism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985),
Thomas Munro, Scientific Method in Aesthetics (New York: W.W.
Norton, 1928), p. ix.
Thomas Munro, "Knowledge and Control," Journal of Aesthetics and Art
Criticism 1/1 (1941), p. 6.
Cembalest, "Obscenity Trial,"p. 137.
Kardon is, of course, a woman, but that does not mean that she—like so
many other art historians, male and female—has not subsumed into her perspectives
what I see as the masculine discourse of formal analysis.
Danto argued that the true context of Mapplethorpe's photographs was a
"sexual revolution. . . and an increasingly explicit homosexual consciousness"
that, once marginal, is "now aesthetically mainstream" ("Censorship and
Subsidy in the Arts," p. 25). But in what way homosexual consciousness
is "aesthetically mainstream" is not clear, especially as "homosexual consciousness"
often refuses to be mainstream.
Cembalest, "Obscenity Trial," p. 137.
This is from Ervin Panofsky's unpublished lecture, "What Is Baroque?" read
at the Ervin Panofsky Symposium, held at the Institute for Advanced Study,
Oct. 3, 1992. It was read by Prof. Irvin Lavin. Had he lived a few centuries
later, Bernard of Clairvaux would have been greatly distressed to see St.
Theresa next to the altar of S. Francesco in Trastevere in Rome.
On opinions concerning van Gogh, see Helmut Hungerland, "Psychological
Explanations of Style in Art," Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism
4/1 (Sept. 1945), pp. 160–165.
Rudolf Arnheim, To the Rescue of Art (Berkeley: University of California
Press, 1992), pp. 147, 150, 154.
T. S. Eliot, "Cultural Forces in the Human Order," in Reckitt, ed., Prospect
for Christendom, p. 64.
Danto, "Censorship and Subsidy in the Arts," p. 36.
Transcript of proceedings, vol. 2, p. 22.
Danto, "Censorship and Subsidy in the Arts," p. 42.
Ibid., p. 25.
Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method (New York: Crossroads, 1984),
Hans-Georg Gadamer, "Aesthetics and Hermeneutics," Philosophical Hermeneutics
(Berkeley:University of California Press, 1976), p. 95.
Heinrich Wölfflin, Italien und das Deutsche Formgefühl
(Munich: F. Bruckmann, 1931), p. 112.
Heinrich Wölfflin, Kunstgeschichtliche Grundbegriffe (Munich:
Hugo Bruckmann, 1915), p. 3.
Theodor Lipps, Grundlegung der Aesthetik (Leipzig: Leopold
Voss, 1923), pp. 148–149.
Robert Morris Ogden, The Psychology of Art (New York: Charles Scribner's
Sons, 1938), pp. 156–157.
DeWitt H. Parker, The Principles of Aesthetics (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts,
1920), pp. 23, 24, 119.
Susanne Langer, Feeling and Form (New York: Scribner's Sons, 1953),
Heinrich Wölfflin, Renaissance and Baroque, trans. Kathrin
Simon (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1964), p. 77.
Danto, "Censorship and Subsidy in the Arts," p. 36.
Danto failed to historicize his theory of "authenticity," but I am sure
that he wouldn't mind my doing so, as his work, which has been an inspiration
for me, makes the point that historical knowledge is important in developing
one's critical capacities. See Arthur C. Danto, Narration and Knowledge
(New York: Columbia University Press, 1985).
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