Friday, September 07, 2007

Touching a Nerve

The initial shock of being called a filthy embarrassment has eased a bit and I have been able to think about why someone would write that about THM. Odd bits of wool floating around aside, I feel I can say with some certitude that our house is, in fact, not filthy. Occasionally untidy, yes, but not filthy. So what was that person trying to say? And why?

Before I examine those questions, I want to explain why I think it is important not to simply dismiss those comments as ridiculous and ignore them. As an artist, I have many, many times had my work critiqued by wise ones and fools. It isn't always a fun process, it doesn't always result in understanding more about the work and how people understand it, but sometimes it does. I think back to a critique I had in 1994 (as Shawn said, we remember the one negative among the many positive, and we remember them for a long time!). I was at an artist residency in Vermont that included visiting artists who gave critiques and the very first one came and really trashed my paintings--I think she called them "Franceso Clemente rip-offs." Then she turned to this fabric I had pinned to the wall on whim and said, "now this looks interesting...what is this?' After a couple of days of licking my wounds, I went back into the studio, thought about my paintings and looked at that fabric. I thought about how I actually dreaded painting and disliked a lot of the processes related to it (stretching canvas, etc.) but how I loved everything to do with fabric and yarn. Maybe I could make art from them instead... The rest, as they say, is history. So, thank you Ms. Harsh Critiquer! You were a total b*tch, but I owe you a lot.

So, when someone calls my project a filthy embarassment I don't just toss it aside as so much philistine ranting. For one thing, why did it hurt so much? Could that mean there is something there? And I have decided there is something very, very juicy there. I believe what that person meant was that my house, with its cracked walls, ceilings with holes and rough floors represents a Newfoundland that some want put far behind them. They don't live in a house like that--they have a new house, new appliances, new dishes, floors, curtains, furniture, smooth walls, nice fixtures, etc., etc. Many people live in Newfoundland in a way that is identical to someone living in Ontario or BC or New York. That is as much a way of being Newfoundland as any other. I think for some people who live like that, for them to see the rough edges in my house recalls the poverty and hard times of the past, when Newfoundlanders were called backward and stupid and made the butt of jokes. For some, all they see are the rough edges and it really pisses them off.

I have encountered this reaction before and was surprised as the vehemence I was met with. After the first time I realized that I had to be very careful to tell people that I am not trying to tell anyone that THIS is Newfoundland. Although called a museum, this project is not intended to be didactic "representation" of Newfoundland but rather a way of generating discussion about what that might be. Obviously not everyone gets that message.

Of course, trying to say what a culture "is" is a slippery slope. Is it THM? Is it a new house on Carberry Road in Corner Brook? Is it moose, icebergs and fishermen? Is it Wal-mart, Canadian Tire and McDonalds? Is it lace curtains, jellies and jams and homemade bread? Is it wide-screen TVs, Hummers and a 5-bedroom house? You tell me.


Brian said...

Hmmm, what is culture? Maybe it's easier to say what it isn't.

It isn't static. It isn't captive. It isn't timeless. It isn't monochromatic. It isn't owned. It isn't contrived. It isn't a commodity.

How's that for a non-answer. :>)

Your turn.


Patti Blaine said...

Hey Robyn, you forgot to mention that Newfoundland could be two people talking about a third or a happening in the produce aisle in Dominion.

I'm sorry someone said something hurtful, but I'm really pleased with how you are outwardly handling it. This has to have been incredibly hard.

I remember clearly the day I sorted through the TA evaluations in graduate school and how weighty the 3 negative reviews were even though there were 90 plus positive, including one individual who switched majors allegedly because of me. And painting critiques? Don't get me started. What kind of crack is it when a professor says, "If you don't be careful, you'll be a great painter"? Ok, maybe that was a good thing. Yet I turned it upside down and backward and didn't become one after all.

Wish I could be there to put a hand on your shoulder and help you laugh this off. I do love how you seem to be handling this though. Cheers.

OfTroy said...

there is a budist concept of 'turning poison into medice' --that which harms us can be the tool to heal us.

you've got it..
and i think you are right, what many hate most is an outward expression of something they dislike about themselves.

they fear poverty (perhaps because they have experienced it) and value new and shiny.. and loathe old.

i too try to take critical remarks, and find in them, the medicine to heal, or to change.