Does anyone remember the fairly popular poster that read, "Expose yourself to art" and had a picture of a man opening a raincoat to flash a statue? My art teacher had that poster on the (outside) door to the department office in High School, but I cannot imagine anything like that today. I think of that now, as I put together an arts curriculum for next year. In an era where drapes are put on statues to preserve their modesty, I'm fortunate to be homeschooling. While I try to keep it age appropriate, I am reluctant to declare most things off limits (I would make an exception for McCarthy, at least at this point because..well, because watching a naked man in a wig writhe in a bathtub shoving raw meat in his mouth until he pukes is...well, frankly it would be a waste of shock value. That's the sort of thing you show them as teenagers, when they think they're such radical, artists. You show them those videos, and they shrug, admit defeat, and go do their homework without complaint. Nothing wipes out teenaged attitude like adults shocking the shit out of you. I know this from my own teenaged introduction to shocking art.
Much like the poster on the art teacher's door, the idea of letting a group of high school students loose in a Kienholz exhibition without previous explanation (or warning) wouldn't be possible today (funny that I'm thinking of McCarthy and Kienholz as they were both part of the same art scene in L.A. and made art that caused people to vomit. This is how my brain works-guess I'm stuck with it). That was the first time I can remember being disturbed by an exhibition. I'm pretty sure the chaperones on the trip had no clue what we were seeing, and spent the afternoon in the museum cafe as the students walked stunned through the galleries. I was fourteen (I know because I still have signed gallery notes from the exhibition-I may have been stunned, but I was smart enough to grab signed gallery notes) and completely unprepared for what I saw. I remember getting home that evening and being in a bit of a dazed funk. In her typical, "What the hell is wrong with you?" manner of parenting, my mother wanted to know, "what the hell was the matter with me"-so I told her about the field trip. Rather than wonder "what the hell was wrong" with the school dumping a bunch of suburban kids in a Kienholz exhibition for an afternoon she laughed, shrugged, and said something to the effect of, "Oh yeah, they're (Kienholz and Reddin) good, aren't they?" By that point she'd seen enough basketballs in fishtanks, and broken crockery affixed to canvas that Kienholz probably seemed comprehensible, disturbing as it was. My mother was suddenly if not cool, at least up on the art scene...and it was horrible. She wasn't supposed to know that stuff. If she knew that, what else did she know about? I realised in that moment that I had lost the ability to shock my mother, and it really enraged me. I mean, how dare she?
I keep that experience in mind as I select what to cover in a fine arts programme for my son. I suppose just teaching fine arts is radical today, but I want to keep some shocking art on reserve, just in case he begins to fancy himself an artist, and needs to have his reality adjusted.