“Can you believe that painting…?”
“What are you talking about?”
“The one on the right, at the end. Can you believe it?”
“What about it? What do you mean?”
“I mean…why would someone do that? That’s not art.”
“It’s not art?! why do you say that?”
“Well look at it. It’s not realistic…I mean it doesn’t make sense. The title of this thing is Shotgun…and that guy doesn’t have a shotgun. That’s crazy. And besides, what’s he pointing at? It looks like he’s in some classy house or the foyer of a business or something. How realistic is that? What’s he doing there? It just doesn’t make any sense…why someone would do that and call it art.”
“I guess it bothers you, huh?”
“No, it doesn’t bother me. I came here to look at art…not that. That’s not art. I just don’t know why anyone would do that…that’s what I don’t get.”
The image is a graphite and acrylic composition by Ernie L. Fournet of Louisiana. It received a Juror’s Choice award at the 2012 National Juried Show at The Academy of Fine Arts. During the opening reception for the show, while I was looking at this painting, it wasn’t long before it became evident to me that not many others cared for it either–if one can draw that conclusion by how swiftly they passed it by. As I admired the precision and brilliance of its execution, I overheard a couple who did stop and look for more than a few seconds. And I couldn’t help eavesdropping…. Their exchange intrigued me almost as much as the unsettling power of the image they were discussing.
Protestations not with standing, this Shotgun was loaded and, I’d say, hit its target. That’s why, in my estimation, the purloined conversation went where it did: to disqualify this painting from being legitimate art. We do this all the time…. Real or legitimate “art” is seldom what we don’t like, have you noticed? How easily we dismiss, overlook, or ignore art that we find distasteful, intrusive, morally objectionable, or disturbing. And one of the most convenient ways to deal with it is simply to pretend it isn’t really there. That is, it isn’t there in the sense that it doesn’t qualify as something we’re looking for when we we’re looking for art. Georges Braque be damned…art is not meant to disturb! –Just like our nation’s chronic addiction to war…we do it, we know it, but it’s not really there because–hey, as the addict says–it doesn’t affect us day to day, at least not enough to be disturbed by it.
With technology, mercenary armed forces, and media masking we’ve largely succeeded in isolating the real costs–the familial and personal pain, the economic and social crippling–that comes with the price of perennial warfare. Most of us resist realizing that war and war-related enterprise is America’s principal economic interest. The business of America is not business…it’s the business of war. We’re all shareholders in the corporation, our tax dollars sustain its operation, our fears fuel its demands, but how many of us bother to read the annual report in detail? Do we really have a clue, do we really care about the costs as long as we can harbor the illusion that ‘it doesn’t really affect me’?
The title of this painting, Shotgun, in the context our current wars, is an unmistakeable throwback to the Vietnam war reminding us–if we care to remember or know–of how we were conned into that wasteful tragedy that until now was the longest, costliest, war in our history. The “domino effect” was calibrated to excite our fears about the threat of global communism and the fallacious “Gulf of Tonkin incident” justified our military assault on southeast Asia. Now we know better. But what difference did it make? Under the cover of “9/11” we bought into a new set of lies to justify new wars of choice for the sake of an ill-conceived set of economic interests in the Middle East. And after more than a decade of war and nation-building we have trumped the tragedy of Vietnam in spades, ignored international law, and re-framed the fundamental provisions of our Constitutional democracy. Not pleasant things to look at. Not comfortable thoughts to engage. And so…not a subject for art?
Out in the provinces where the sales live and foyers have fountains, art is pleasant, pretty, and pacific. There’s not a large market with the masses for art that unsettles the stomach or disturbs the mind. And why would there be? We don’t go to church for conflict and confrontation; we go for comfort and consolation. So why would we want art to challenge, mix things up, thumb its nose at our comfortable conventions, or make us work for its meaning? Well…we don’t have to buy it. But just because you or I don’t want to work or be bothered unnecessarily with the inconvenient facts of life, does that disqualify artists from doing so? Does that mean those subjects should be off-limits for artwork because they don’t suit our tastes?
So, about this powerful piece by Ernie Fournet and that conversation I overheard…. Is it reasonable to conclude that just because this painting disturbs the peace and doesn’t make the kind of sense we want that it isn’t art? I guess if you can’t tell a U.S. Service Rifle from a “Shotgun” then maybe you should be in a gun store rather than an art gallery. It’s probably a more American thing to do.