Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Manteca's "degenerate art"

The City of Manteca has reached an agreement with the California Public Art and Mural Symposium. The city will give the artists hosting this event $3,500 and in return the artists agree to let the Manteca Police Department review the art and determine what type of art is proper! In fact, from questions and answers at the council meeting, the artists said they would require the "spray paint artists" to submit complete sketches in pencil of their proposed art and the police "gang unit" would approve or disapprove the art. The artists said they would be looking out for "gang art" or "gang symbols" or "certain colors."

So now the artists in Manteca can only produce government approved art?

Does anyone see any historical parallels here? Although there have always been controversies over "public funding of art" those were usually involving the commissioning of some large projects and involved criticisms of the art after it was produced. You can't please everyone, and what is "art" is often in the eye of the beholder.

But in Manteca, there are some distinctions. First, instead of complaining about if the art is good or not after it's made, by pre-approving sketches the city government is participating in the art process. And secondly, instead of the art being judged by the public process or city officials, city policemen will be making judgments as to what kind of art the participants are allowed to make. Art being produced literally at gunpoint. And, this is no slam against the fine Manteca Police Dept., but I didn't know that Manteca police officers were skilled artists or somehow qualified to judge, much less dictate, what kind of art is permitted.

One aspect of art is supposed to be an expression of something that can't be said in words. A form of communication of feelings or thoughts on a different level, sort of like music or poetry. The idea that the government can, or should, only let people produce only approved art is an anathema to free expression.

I know what some would say. That we just can't let these kids make any art they want. They might make "gang art" or something. Well, so what? Isn't that the purpose of art? To express whatever is on the mind of the artist? And if it's gang symbols, well, frankly I'd be curious to know that. On the other hand, what if the young participants were allowed to produce whatever art they wanted to without a policeman standing over them? And what if they produced some fantastic creative art? Then we would have some true idea that maybe young people aren't all gang members. But as planned, the participants will be forced to produce police approved "good" art at gunpoint. So, what does that really tell us about the inner feelings of the artist? Nothing! You'll always get the result you're looking for, and this nullifies the whole purpose of making art -- to find learn the true feelings of the artist.

If you really want to draw some historical parallels, this policy is not that different than what Hitler did in the 1930's. The Nazi's were obsessed with art. And the storm troopers kept and eye out for "degenerate art." Hitler preferred certain art forms that glorified the German State, and the superiority of the "Aryan race." Common themes that were permitted were muscular blond haired men and women, living in health and beauty (usually without clothing) under the wonderful Nazi system. Other types of art, and the artists were persecuted and their art purged from public galleries. Even today some of the art the Nazi's didn't like is on display in special galleries of "degenerate art."

I also fault the Manteca Mural Society. In order to get a few dollars they are apparently willing to give up their right to free expression and instead are willing enablers of the government's plan to control the art. Bear in mind we aren't talking about a mural or art project commissioned by the city -- in that case of course the city would specify what they want produced. But in this case, they are advertising this "art symposium" as some kind of free competition between artists. Even they probably recognize the shame of the arrangement, because I notice no where in their promotional literature do they mention that the "competition with other artists" will be under the watchful eye of police officials who will order you to produce art that is pleasing to the government.

In addition an artist from Manteca would probably be put on a list if they defiantly paint the wrong color or draw the wrong thing. The MPD "gang unit" spends a lot of time compiling this list of "known gang members and associates" and if you get two or more "gang indicators" on your record, you are considered a "gang member." One of those hits for the list is displaying "gang colors." So how's that for a formula for creative expression? Come to Manteca's art competition, where you will ask a policemen for permission to draw something, and if you deviate from the approved colors or symbols in your art, or if the art expert/critic/policeman doesn't like your art, you go on "the enemies list" where you'll be watched like a hawk by the government for at least the next two years. Sounds like just the kind of thing young people would like to participate in! Sign me up!

But for some reason, the promotional mailings don't mention this, I can't figure out why!?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

This can't be true! Shocking!

From the Department of This-Explains-a-Lot:

From the Manteca Bulletin opinion page, a letter writer chastising the editor for not "respecting education." The letter writer's comment: "It's a degree in journalism which gives Mr. Wyatt the background and credibility to run a newspaper, and I respect that."

I guess to be fair I should add that not being indoctrinated by "Journalism School" is actually a good thing. Some of the most respected journalists proudly proclaim they haven't been told what to think by some journalism school. Examples such as Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings, John Stossel.