On walking the fine line between revisionist history and cultural sensitivity.

Two stories have come to light this week that examine America’s relationship with art, it’s depiction of slavery and our sociological  and cultural response to those depictions of history.

The first story, out of Georgia, centers on a series of murals painted by George Beattie depicting an idealized version of Georgia’s agricultural development.

The series starts with corn grown by prehistoric Native Americans, and proceeds to a 20th-century veterinary lab. The history in between the ancient and the modern eras includes slavery.

The incoming Republican agriculture commissioner, Gary Black, doesn’t like the work and feels it is no longer appropriate for the modern agricultural systems in Georgia. (Perhaps a golden idol to Monsanto would be more to his liking.)

Mr. Beattie is no longer alive to defend the work, but had obviously dealt with the issues raised prior to this incident.

Beattie’s 1995 defense of his work:

“As a human being, I am vehemently opposed to slavery, as anyone should be, but it was a significant epoch in our history; it would have been inaccurate not to include this period.”

In the second incident Publisher’s Weekly examines a Twain scholar’s efforts to “update”  The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn for a modern audience.

Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a classic by most any measure—T.S. Eliot called it a masterpiece, and Ernest Hemingway pronounced it the source of “all modern American literature.” Yet, for decades, it has been disappearing from grade school curricula across the country, relegated to optional reading lists, or banned outright, appearing again and again on lists of the nation’s most challenged books, and all for its repeated use of a single, singularly offensive word: “nigger.”

Believe it or not, I find the first incident slightly more defensible than the second for this reason:

Twain was portraying the mores of his time. As a former newspaper man, he understood the importance of capturing the particular realities of a story, even if they were dressed in fiction.

In creating his painting series, Beattie was not portraying the essence of his era. He  chose to create a view of history that removed the suffering of the kidnapped victims of slavery. Neither did he depict the genocide visited upon the Native Americans who were driven off their tribal lands. He chose to create work that pleased his patron; work depicting idyllic moments; free of want or hardship. He edited out the uncomfortable moments in a foreshadowing of what Gary Black is currently attempting to do by removing the work wholesale.

Black claims he is not comfortable with the depictions because they whitewash the realities of Georgia using slaves to build it’s wealth and power. But by the same token, it seems he is attempting to push that uncomfortable skeleton into a literal and metaphoric closet.

In denying our history, we belittle the suffering of those already made small, nameless and faceless. How can we pretend the abuse did not happen? How can we bear to make the abhorrent more palatable by a self-imposed blindness, by euphemism or by proxy? What do these incidents say about our willingness to confront our past so that we remain aware of our potential, as humans, to dehumanize others?

As an artist, this chills me; this marginalization of painful truths for the sake of ease. It does not bode well for our maturity as citizens or as a society.

Visual Arts Reviews for the IC: Hidden Treasure

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Arts In View: Visual Art Reviews from Island Ford Art

Hidden Treasure

Every time I hear someone suggest we lack a local visual arts scene, I’m reminded Dorothy’s moment of revelation just before she finds her way home. When she’s asked what she learned from her adventures, she replies: “…if I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard; because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.”

In terms of our local arts resources, I agree with her. There are a number of good local venues that can be reached by car; most of them in under an hour.

So, what we want to do is briefly introduce you to these hidden treasures. Then you can take the time to explore them for yourselves.

It took us a while to find all the treasures in our area. While they don’t always have work of the size and scale you might find in, say, MOMA or the National Gallery, the work in these local galleries more than holds it’s own in terms of craft, relevance and content. So, if you are planning to make a day of it, find a good local eatery and enjoy at your leisure.

In future columns we’ll be talking about the work and the shows presented at these venues, but first we wanted to help you become familiar with them. We’ll also provide a little background and basically present an overview what’s available. At the end of this column you find a web address with links to the galleries. At the links you should find information on current and upcoming shows; along with operating hours. And their pages will also provide directions.

In Statesville, we have the Iredell Museums. Located on Court Street in the heart of downtown; this building is part of the historical “Bristol Block”. The Iredell Museums is an umbrella organization which covers both the Iredell Museum and the Children’s Museum. They feature a good variety of contemporary arts and contemporary crafts, traveling shows and regional artists and artisans.

In Mooresville, the Mooresville Artist Guild features local and regional artists, member shows and juried competitive shows. The Artist Guild is housed in the Old Mooresville Train Depot in downtown Mooresville.

In the northern part of Iredell County is the Hiddenite Center; housed in a restored 3-story Victorian Lucas Mansion. They are part local history, part art and history gallery, with a featured doll gallery on the 3rd floor along with various art classes.

To the west is the Hickory Museum of Art, which is part of the SALT block. Also featured in the SALT block is the Catawba Science Center and the Hickory Coral Society and the Western Piedmont Symphony and the Patrick Beaver Memorial Library. The Museum also has classes for children and adults.

A bit further west and north is the Wilkes Art Gallery in North Wilkesboro. In 2004 they moved into the original North Wilkesboro Post Office, in the heart of downtown North Wilkesboro. They have a beautifully renovated space that houses regular exhibitions and a variety of classes.

The city of Salisbury features the Waterworks Visual Art Center, housed in the renovated McCanless Motor Company showrooms. In 1999 Waterworks was accredited as a non-collecting museum by the American Association of Museums. It is one of only 14 nationally accredited museums in the state. Personally, we rank it as a world class museum. It is a beautiful facility and the shows are top notch.

Davie County is home to Brock Performing Arts Center in Mocksville. In addition to an excellent performing arts center, the Brock Performing Arts Center features visual arts exhibitions by local and regional artists along with juried competitive shows.

Mecklenburg County has a wide variety of arts venues. Our favorites are found in Davidson in Davidson College’s Van Every/Smith Galleries. In addition to exceptional exhibitions by well-established individual artists, in the Van Every Gallery, the Edward M. Smith Gallery features work from the students in the art department.

The Mint Museums are focused individually on fine arts at the Randolph and fine crafts and design at the Uptown location. The Museum at Randolph was originally the first branch of the United States Mint and in it’s incarnation as a museum, the first museum in North Carolina. The exhibitions are noteworthy and their permanent collection houses some hidden gems of their own.

The McColl Center was built in the renovated shell of the old ARP Church from the vision of Hugh McColl and the financing of Bank of America. In addition to exhibitions from cutting edge artists, the McColl Center established a series of artist’s residencies along with outreach and education.

With the venue information out of the way, now you can meet your tour guides:

Walt McGervey has Masters of Fine Arts Degree in Sculpture. He has taught various classes in art history and fine arts classes at university and at regional visual arts centers.

Karen Parker has a Masters of Fine Arts Degree in Painting. She works out of her studio and has instructed in painting, drawing and design classes at all levels for over 20 years.

For more information on the venues featured here go to: www.islandfordart.com/venue

Painter With No Eyes Draws Things Sighted People Get Wrong.

And skeptics swoon at the shattering of another impossibility.

Yet another instance where the dogma of science and conventional wisdom are both completely off the mark.

Esref Armagan

this link to a YouTube video from the Discovery Channel explains that, due to a genetic defect Esref was born with no eyes. Unlike some blind people, whose eyes still send signals to the brain, Esref relies solely on information he has gathered from movement, touch and spatial awareness.

Skeptics, who tend to rely solely on the word of science, would dismiss any 2nd hand discussion of this man as a complete impossibility. But humanity has absolutely no comprehension of what our brains (read: the entirety of a person as a whole interactive organism) is capable of.

That alone is cause for hope.