I May Not Know Much About Art, But I Know What I Like
This post was
going to be about a couple of fugly additions to downtown Silly String (Silver Spring, for you squares)—the mural on the side of the Discovery headquarters, and the mural outside our local Whole Foods market. They (especially the Whole Foods one) have a great kinship with another mural that's been for years on a wall near Mt. Pleasant in DC—heading down Porter Street.
What do they have in common? Well, mostly, they suck. At the time I was planning this post, I was all set to decry their common style as "pseudo-Hispanic dayglo slop art." I see this particular style of montage/pastiche/mural around, in the graphic design world, etc., and it's almost (to me) become a visual shorthand for diversity, especially when you're talking about including a large Hispanic minority.
It looks like art for kids. Bright colors, heavy matching-color outlines on largely 2-dimensional depictions, pre-packaged metaphors, etc. They mostly look like somebody blew up a parrot farm, air-dropped a few baskets of tropical fruits, photographed it and called it a day, and worse, called it representative of the community's cultural diversity.*
To my eyes, this childish, simplistic mess being passed off as what the Hispanic community thinks of when it considers itself is the height of paternalism, or at least condescending. Do the folks in charge of public artistic displays really think this unsophisticated junk appeals to their two primary target markets? Those markets are, of course, Latino locals and rich, guilty, latte-drinking, coop-shopping whitebread like me** who get all excited about the Hispanic couple moving in across the way because it's "diverse." I just feel like there's probably a lot more to the Hispanic, or Central American, or whatever, experience than bright primary colors and simplistic metaphors.
Trouble is, at least the two local murals are actually
Hispanic dayglo slop art. By Hispanic artists. This kind of puts a whole new spin on it. I still think the murals suck—don't get me wrong—but now I wonder if this style of artwork really does
represent the Latino community adequately. Perhaps coming from lands where jungles, sunshine, tropical fruits, parrots or dayglo colors are ostensibly more common really does make this kind of art make sense somehow. Maybe things are bad enough for Hispanic artists in this country that they're willing to turn out this formulaic crap for committees of white business owners just to get enough work to finance their real
art. Maybe Hispanic artists think that's what everyone else wants to see in their outdoor wall-art. I don't know, but it's more complicated for the fact of these most recent murals having been executed by Hispanics.
For sure, I don't know anything about what it is to be Hispanic—the closest I've ever come to having an ethnicity was "bike messenger***." Maybe I'm
the paternalistic, condescending one here. Wouldn't be the first time. Hell, it wouldn't be the second time, either. This kind of thing happens all the time when you think you know better than everyone else.
I do fucking hate those murals, though.
*To be fair, the Discovery mural doesn't go the kid-art route—it's much more sophisticated in what it tries to portray, and is much more painterly. I probably shouldn't even include it here. But there is something that makes me group them all together. Probably it's those fugly dayglo/primary colors. Or that it's totally wrong for the setting. Or that it's stuck on the side of a symbol of rich white people's cultural hegemony in this country (Whole Foods--where you too can shop for "natural" items in a brightly-lit, sterile environment, get suckered with "organic" this and "homeopathic" that, and tithe a large portion of your salary for the privilege. Discovery Channel--who have fifty channels of crap that only people who shell out $50-70 a month for cable or satellite can see, and that's really the same kind of snake-oil presented by Whole Foods, but with an egghead label on it.). Or that it sucks. And I have no idea where I got the idea that it was somehow Hispanic, either, but it is.
**OK—I don't drink coffee, and always hated the Coop. I fucking hate hippies, and overpriced bulk grains and pre-packaged hippie snacks (low-salt Hemp Chips flavored with evaporated cane juice, anyone?) do not a shopping experience make, in my opinion. Likewise, I loathe "green" products, mostly because the vast majority of them don't work nearly as well as the supposedly "anti-environment" products they're meant to replace, and they universally cost substantially more. My general rule is that you can get two of the big three—quality, low price, speed (or convenience)—at any one time, but not three. In the case of green products, you typically don't get ANY of the big three, and that says they're not holding up their end of the bargain. Substituting salve for your guilty SUV-driving conscience in place of one of the three is NOT getting it. But I am a rich, guilty whitebread type, and I do celebrate local diversity, even as I question my motives for my excitement.
***In DC, it's an ethnicity just like any other—you're visually identifiable, people think they know things (mostly bad things) about you because of it, and you're discriminated against by pretty much every type of business owner who ever denied service to a black/Hispanic/Asian/gay/whatever person. I ordered breakfast not to go every day at the same McDonalds for months, and never received my food on a tray. The homeless folks and I all "got the bag." That's not the worst of it, but it's emblematic. White guy guilt message: I do not, for one second, think the discrimination I suffered is equal to that borne by minorities in this country every day. It just gave me a tiny window on what it's like, is all.