Kushner includes a plethora of different forms of art in this book. Some of it, such as the filming of a pregnant woman by a somewhat lecherous crowd of men, easily violates what people in cultured parts of the world would consider “in good taste”.
However, this raises the question of what art is and is not in “good taste”. Is there a defense for art that is brutal, dehumanizing or downright vulgar? The main example of this that I wish to investigate is that of Ronnie Fontaine. I wish to particularly focus on the chapter where Ronnie take photos of women and their bruised faces.
A type of Dionysian furor seems to overtake them, with the women beginning to hit themselves more and more. Initially, I found myself disgusted and disturbed that Ronnie would be taking photos of this, or encouraging it. What was his intention, his reason in making it? Was it to glorify violence? To capture the image of battered femininity? Or was it something even more perverse, with the art not so much mattering to him as some sadistic pleasure he derives from it’s making?
As I read the rest of the book, I anticipated the next chapter with Ronnie in it with baited breath, practically praying that Kushner would reveal some character flaw or traumatic event in his life that would give an explanation, any explanation, to why he would choose such a garish subject matter. And she did not disappoint, with snippets of Ronnie’s life (which are, in the case of the Commodore, also perhaps a pack of lies) such as his brother’s death. And upon reading these, I am still unsure of where I stand in regards to my opinion on Ronnie as a artist, if perhaps justified as a human.
In my occasionally-not-so-humble opinion, the difference in what makes art good or bad is not in the content, context or imagery that it presents to it’s viewer, but in it’s original intention upon conception. For example, during WWII there was a vast amount of propaganda that was passed off as art. Here, I feel, is an example of what separates art from “not-art” or “bad arts”. It lies deep within the mind of the artist at it’s moment of becoming. Art that has a intention to control, influence or sway the public is, in my opinion, inferior to art that, rather than try to convince, merely opens the door for the mind of the viewer to consider a new perspective. In plain words I am suggesting that propaganda is not art, but that some art is presented in the form of propaganda. Art historians and students everywhere may disagree with me, but for the purposes of this book investigation I still hold my opinion to be at least somewhat logical.
If I am correct, the artist then, is the key factor in the production of art. What perspective is it, then, that Ronnie is trying to elucidate to the world? What stance, what foul and darkly violent world is he trying to bring into this reality? And, what is his motivation? I think that there is no clear answer to this, but after reading this book which provides no clear answers to much of anything, I believe that the answer is besides the point. The important thing is that a question, or a perspective is raised. And while Ronnie’s art may be distasteful, it still reveals a part of his character. To Ronnie, life may be many times worse and more brutal than the seemingly violent subject matter he revels in.
Perhaps, now that I’ve read it and all is seen and done, I still dislike Ronnie’s art. Violence is violence.
But I understand it.