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[BKARTS] WOID #XIII-41. Blue Bayou



Dear Professor:
 
I)
A week ago you wrote asking for donations of art supplies for the 
evacuees from New Orleans: "children and adults now living in 
shelters , [....], children who are entering the public schools whose 
budgets are currently overtaxed and overwhelmed, [...] college art 
students from New Orleans now enrolled [elsewhere], and professional 
artists who have lost not only their supplies but their life's work."
 
An admirable request, and yet two memories haunt me: an artist friend 
of mine who worked with homeless children in New York City once told 
me the closets in the welfare hotels were bursting with donated art 
supplies. Why didn't she just hand them out, I asked. Because, she 
said, her job wasn't to hand out art supplies, it was to teach art. 
The other is of people in Louisiana dying, dying even now, because 
there are too many people who think it's not their job to hand out 
food and water, just to control who gets the food and the water, and 
the making of art. 
 
II)
Absolute Poverty: it's not an ad for a brand of vodka, it' a 
statistical calculation that defines poverty in terms of "absolute" 
necessities: food, shelter, clothing. That's a belief for Barbara 
Bush, not you or me, Professor. People need art, not in the way that 
they need food or water, but in a way no less important in the long 
run, and that's the run we're seeing on Louisiana: the first 
responders were the lobbyists and speculators. Close behind, the 
social engineers: the churches, activists, the NGOs. With the 
breakdown of neighborhoods comes a breakdown of social and cultural 
relations, and the charities, activists and government are now 
competing to define what new relations will replace them as surely as 
charities in Old New England once bid for "their" poor. I think we all 
know, now, it's not whether you give, but to whom: Pat Robertson, or 
the Red Cross, or to MoveOn.org. The issue isn't whether there must be 
food and water and housing in New Orleans, and culture. The issue is: 
what kind of each, for whom, and who decides? 
 
III)
And what worries me about your call is the implication, which lies 
behind so much high culture in America, that there is no culture among 
the poor, that they're merely vessels to be filled, with more or less 
benevolence, by more-or-less well-meaning social workers, government 
agencies or art professors. From there, of course, it's just a step to 
the actual destruction of native habitats and cultures, their 
replacement by "something better." Teach a man to fish and you have 
him fed for life. Teach a man to mix oil paints and you have him 
hooked for life on a charge account at the art supply store. And will 
that make him a better artist?

Many years ago a friend of mine, an artist from New Orleans, told me 
of a bridge somewhere in the Delta, he wouldn't tell me where. Before 
you cross this bridge you walk down under it, and stick your hands in 
deep, and you come up with blue mud, the deepest, bluest blue you've 
ever seen. Maybe he needs some help, now, but I'm going to wait to be 
asked.


Collegially Yours,

Paul T Werner, New York
http://theorangepress.com

WOID: A journal of visual language
"Museum Inc.: Inside the Global Art World" (November 1, from Prickly 
Paradigm Press)

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