Archive for February, 2006

06w07:1 The Cartoons

by timothy. 0 Comments


Last week saw a lot of coverage in mainstream media about the protests over some stupid drawings. In the Saturday (11 Feb) Globe and Mail, the editor-in-chief Edward Greenspon argued that they weren’t showing them because they didn’t feel they added anything important to the story, while justifying the occasional photo of bombed bodies on Israeli buses. (In that case I’m thinking of a 2003 front page). He wrote:

‘As one cartoonist said earlier this week, this is not a matter of self-censorship. It is a question of editing. Every day we are faced with similar decisions, particularly in choosing photos. Do we show a naked woman? Do we show a dead baby? Do we show bodies blown apart by a suicide bomber or other samples of the carnage that come our way regularly? Most often the answer is we do not. Only when we feel an offensive photo is absolutely necessary to the understanding of the story do we loosen our restraints.’

‘This point makes no sense, given that a full understanding of protests about drawings should require that one see them for oneself. I could take the mainstream media’s self-righteousness seriously if this were not the age of the internet and Google. You want to see ’em, go ahead and see them. The same goes for pictures of naked women (naked men aren’t offensive?) dead babies, and carnage ( The media has used arguments of self-censorship and editing to draw us a picture of their own obsolesce. I’ve been wondering about how many people have actually seen the images on the net. As that’s part of what Goodreads is about, I almost sent the link a week ago but on the other hand, I didn’t want to be part of the game of offending people. I’ve been wishing this story would just go away like they always do. Remember two years ago when Mel Gibson was supposedly an anti-semite?

Yet I can relate to being offended by images. In 2002 John Paul II came to Toronto for the World Youth Day and I went and saw him give Mass, since I grew up a Catholic and had seen his photograph at my grandmother’s house for as long as I could remember, in addition to it being very popular in the area. There was a feeling of obligation, mixed with nostalgia I suppose. The night before the Mass, I went to an opening at Art System, the Ontario College of Art and Design student run gallery. Their show was about the Pope, and extended to Catholicism in general. As you can imagine, there were plenty of images of priests and popes sodomizing young boys. For one of the few times in my life, I was offended, but I knew where it was coming from (the rebellious young influenced by the scandals in the news) and having grown up in an open and tolerant society, felt no need to staple a placard to a stick and lead a protest, considering it was all just stupid and immature.

Now, one of the arguments with these Muhammed cartoons is that the editors of the newspaper should have known better. These Muslims are rioting and protesting because they feel insulted. I find it all kind of crazy that some people can get all upset over drawings, but as a visual artist I suppose I’m supposed to get all excited by the power of the medium and jump on the iconographic bandwagon, or get on the side of the cartoonists and talk about freedom of expression and denounce this iconoclasm. But I feel I have better things to do. The World has better things to do.

The editors of newspapers in North America would know better than to publish the images I saw from OCAD. They would be able to see how unfair they were. I’m not sure if that’s censorship, as much as it’s a respect for context. I can well imagine the images published elsewhere – in a show catalogue, in some article critiquing or analyzing the Church’s pederast scandals, in some art history book. The show didn’t warrant getting shut down by the cops, which still happens sometimes. There were no protests.

In this case, the cartoons violate Islam’s prohibition against images, and especially the prohibition in depicting the Prophet. Worse, the arguments made against the images by Muslim spokespeople are that they stereotype Muslims as terrorists. The image by Claus Seidel seems aimed to offend by merely representing Muhammed, whereas the image by Erik Sorensen seems to be as juvenile and ignorant as the shit I saw that night at OCAD.

Further, I have a recent example of being offended by an image. And the image in question is that of an ad featuring Ann Coulter and Robert Novak, featured prominently next to the cartoons here. This webpage thus manages to offend not only Muslims, but secular liberals. And, when I ask myself, ‘why do they keep protesting?’ I’m reminded by Coulter, who recently referred to them as ‘ragheads’.

The best explanation for what’s happened over the past week (advanced by Rick Salutin and reported by Simon Tudiver in Maisonneuve’s Mediascout) is that Muslims are pissed off for always being stereotyped and caricatured as terrorists, from these stupid cartoons to Hollywood’s blockbusters. Tudivier’s headline, by the way, ‘Protesting the cartoon professor’ refers to Peter March, who posted the images on the door of his office at Saint Mary’s University. Peter March was a professor of mine in 1998. After Tudivier raises the Salutin article, he adds, ‘Had Professor March offered up such an idea, MediaScout would have applauded his contribution. We should be looking to our academics to elevate the debate, not debase it by merely inciting an angry mob.’ What’s unclear in the reportage about Prof. March was that he teaches philosophy, and I think it’s fair to suggest that, instead of merely trying to incite an angry mob (as he waded into a protest on campus last week), he was trying to engage in Socratic debate.

Which should help remind us that all of these easy explanations cheapen us all, and I’m going to go back to wishing the world had something better to talk about (like poverty, aids, hunger, global warming, etc). The way the religious keep hijacking the agenda of human betterment seems to me the best advertisement for agnostic secularism, which is why I’m rather happy to live in a Canada, where that’s pretty much the way it is, although we end watching the world’s news for entertainment rather than dealing with our own social agenda. A week ago I wanted to send out the link to the Colbert Report video below, under the headline, ‘why I’m glad I’m not American’ but truth be told, inasmuch as it critiques the American economy, it’s true here as well. This type of thing warrants a lot more discussion than drawings, or ‘turncoat politicians’. – Timothy


‘Thank You’ | The Colbert Report

Protesting the Cartoon Professor | Simon Tudvier

The Cartoons

Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy | Wikipedia

Face of Muhammed
A blog about the cartoons

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emailed by Timothy on Monday 13 February 2006 @ 4:37 PM (Permalink)

06w06:1 A Note about Goodreads for Yahoo subscribers

by timothy. 0 Comments

A note about the mailing list: since the end of December there have been some problems getting the messages through anti-spam software. Specifically, Yahoo hasn’t allowed the last two messages through. There’s little I can do about this. You might want to try the RSS feed, or keep checking the website now and then. – Timothy

emailed by Timothy on Friday 10 February 2006 @ 6:22 PM

06w05:3 Controversial Art News Clips

by timothy. 0 Comments

Good Reads Mailing List | 2006 week 5 number 3 (controversial art news clips)


‘Controversy’ | The Daily Show

Bin Laden Artwork Now Hanging In New York | WCBSTV
“You could take the painting out of circulation, or not, for a mere $12,000 and change. You can see the painting, or not, by visiting the show which runs through Sunday. Daily admission is $15.”with embedded video

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emailed by Timothy on Friday 03 February 2006 @ 1:31 PM

06w05:2 An Open and Reasonable Soceity?

by timothy. 0 Comments

Good Reads Mailing List | 2006 week 5 number 2 (an open and reasonable society?)

In the remarkable chapter Images of Immortality found within John Ralston Saul’s 1992 bookVoltaire’s Bastards he says this while tracing the development of artist heroes:

When Romanticism began to flourish in the late 18th Century and the ego began to grow until it dominated public life, people abruptly found Raphael far too modest a fellow to have been the father of the perfect image. So they tended to fall into line with the description of the technical breakthroughs which had been provided by Vasari in his Lives of the Painters, written shortly after the actual events. In other words, they transferred the credit to an irresponsible, antisocial individualist, Michelangelo – a veritable caricature of the artist in the 20th Century. If we were ever able to create a reasonable, open society, Leonardo would no doubt cease appearing to us as an overwhelming, almost forbidding, giant and the credit would be switched to him.

Since that time, Marcel Duchamp (analytical, reasonable) has overtaken Picasso (irresponsible, antisocial individualist that he was) as the greatest artist of the 20th Century, and Leonardo has inspired one of the most read books in the history of the world. Although there is a ton of political evidence to the contrary, perhaps we are witnessing the transition toward a reasonable open society after all? Slowly the balance is shifting so that the President of the United States says ‘Americans are addicted to oil’ and these five words become a headline (as it did yesterday on the Drudgereport), representing as they do a significant shift toward reality from a man famously blinded by ideology.

This Leonardo angle comes by way of the Martin Kemp interview link herein, in which he also complains about art writing. After they talk about his Leonardo book, they get to talking about contemporary art, and Kemp says the following:

AFH: What do you think of all the writing generated by the art world?

MK: There is a lot of writing generated that is redundant. When I was a graduate student, I used to review exhibitions and I found that sitting on the train heading in to London to see the show, I would be writing the review before I arrived. At one point when I was working in Glasgow, I did a review for the Guardian of a nonexistent exhibition, which consisted of all the popular words and apparatus. It was a critical account that stood independently and I then dropped in a spurious artist in to the framework. You see a lot of writing like that allows the machinery to go on by just dropping a name into the mix along the way.

AFH: Do you think this kind of writing is destructive to art or artists?

MK: One thing that has happened very dramatically is that artists in the educational system have to produce more written work as part of their degrees. That has had an effect on artists and artistic production. I think many artists are automatically thinking about how the work will be written about when they are making it. It is not necessarily that they plan, but they can’t stop doing it. That hyper-sensitivity to the written word and what artists need to say about their own work, knowing they will be interviewed, often goes alongside a very self-consciousness about how work will look in reproduction, how it will be discussed, how artists need to justify their own work in the media. The issue is how to corral the artists and the critics into one arena that represents the work well.

This leads me to post the Jerry Saltz article from the end of December, wherein he talks about being a critic. Personally my own experience with writing criticism slanted me toward thinking it wasn’t worth it. Better to let people make up their own minds about things. There’s a difference between criticism and publicity afterall, and no artist wants real criticism. Such genuine critique comes from someone like John Carey, where in the last link this is said about the art world: “Approved high art, Carey insists again and again, is too often simply a marker of class, education and wealth. ‘It assures you of your specialness. It inscribes you in the book of life, from which the nameless masses are excluded.’ Yet ‘the characteristics of popular or mass art that seem most objectionable to its high-art critics — violence, sensationalism, escapism, an obsession with romantic love — minister to human needs inherited from our remote ancestors over hundreds of thousands of years.'” It seems to me that in an increasingly open and reasonable society, professional artists would be derided for their unreasonable snobbish attitudes. But that’s just me.

Finally, a link to a Daily Show clip on Crooks and Liars. They offer two video feeds, one Windows and the other a Quicktime, but the quicktime one doesn’t work as a type this (maybe later?). The clip goes over the James Frey debacle, pointing out that while political lying is pooh-poohed, Oprah’s humiliation is that she ‘forced Americans to read, when they really didn’t have to’.

– Timothy

Universal Leonardo | Ana Finel Honigman
The interview with Martin Kemp. But check out the website mentioned there:
“‘A project aimed at deepening our understanding of Leonardo da Vinci through a series of international exhibitions, scientific research and educational resources. Explore the web site for details of the exhibitions and to discover Leonardo’s fascinating thought and work in the realms of art, science and technology.’ “

Seeing out loud | Jerry Saltz

What Good are the Arts? | Michael Dirda

The Daily Show: Oprah vs News | Crooks and Liars
“Why does James Frey get tougher treatment than our government? Well, I’ll tell you why. Because he misled us into a book we had no business getting into. So thank you Oprah for giving us a glimpse into political accountability and punishing the one unforgivable sin our society. Forcing Americans to read … when they really didn’t have to.”

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emailed by Timothy on Wednesday 01 February 2006 @ 2:28 PM