Tag Archives: opinion

#occupymuseums

As a young, liberal-minded person, I’ve been generally following the #occupy movement. While appreciating the sentiment, I feel the movement mostly leaves the actual action of the activism to a  body that is made up of the same breed of rich, white, male-bodied people whom the movement is protesting against. So while not participating directly because of the lack of organization and generally the method of activism, I do hope, someday, that taxes will make more sense, even if that means that I, as an upper middle person, will be taxed more.

That aside, what really caught my attention this week was an article on the Washington Post’s website about the #occupymuseums movement.

The idea is that museums perpetuate “cultural elitism.” And yes, they do. But I don’t think the tagline of the #occupy movement applies to art museums. That one percent of the world is represented in those museums and the ninety-nine percent isn’t. Whether we like it or not, “museum art” is a part of our Western cultural consciousness and the story we tell about ourselves. I am very pro-museum institution. But I am also very pro-art outside of museums. There are art and artists who actively break down museums in their work, whether they are participating in the museum system or not.

I originally saw a mention of this movement on my tumblr (my favorite micro-blogging platform). It was paired with a Barbara Kruger piece “You invest in the divinity of the masterpiece.” Kruger is an example of an artist who breaks down the cultural elitism of museums by working in the museum system.

"You invest in the divinity of the masterpiece," Barbara Kruger, 1982, MoMA

I believe museums are less culturally elite than the prospect of these pieces of art being in the private homes of the true 1%. Maybe art is elitist because there is such a thing as art and Art, and I believe that good art exists. I believe in the canon, as much as I believe in breaking open the canon. Like I said in my post about the Barnes Foundation (An Opinion: The Barnes Foundation), the absolute most important thing to me is that people have access to art. Large, urban museums provide that. Anyone can walk into the Metropolitan Museum of Art  and see a large portion of art history. And I think that the more pressing issue which the #occupymuseums movement may be missing is that art exists outside museums. By protesting the institution, they are giving power to the institutions, by legitimatizing the notion that because museums are elitist and rich, they monopolize the best art. But there is among the best art outside of museums as well.  As an extremely canonical person (I want to study Renaissance art and Victorian literature, for God’s sake), I do tend to prioritize art that is in museums. But I also actively seek out art outside of the museum system, and I think encouraging that would help break down the elitism more.

You can’t change the institution by being angry at it; you can change it by providing it with competition. Let great art exists in museums, make great art outside of museums and provide access to everyone. That’s how you make the art world equal opportunity.

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An Opinion: The Barnes Foundation

The Barnes Foundation, in case you don’t know, was founded by Albert Barnes, a great Philadelphia art collector. It is widely considered the greatest collection of Post-Impressionism and Modern Art. Barnes had a great eye, and as a result he amassed a very concentrated collection of true masterpieces. When he first showed his collection, it was met with poor reviews by the Philadelphia art establishment, leading to animosity between Barnes himself and this establishment that would so want to be apart of his collection later.

Before he died, Barnes wrote his will to insure that his collection would be remain as he intended it, in Lower Merion, which is about five miles outside of the city. It is now in the process of being moved to Benjamin Franklin Parkway, very close to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. How did this happen? Political maneuvering and some corrupt legal dealings, honestly. And some people are very upset with the indenture being changed.

But does it matter? To me, no. While I understand that the institution of museums is something that kind of problematic and can dilute the experience of art, the most important thing about art is that people, all people, having access to it. And large institutions in large cities lend themselves to that.

Another argument against moving the Barnes is the unique style of curating that Barnes used in his Foundation. But again, for me, placing curating over the actual experience of seeing an individual work of art is a problem. Why does this curating get to be preserved with other works get put into different shows all the time? While the dialogues created by Barnes are important, why do they take precedence over any other dialogues creates by contemporary curators?

I want to hear this dialogue in the art world. Art people arguing for accessible Barnes. Instead, we see the people in charge in the city versus the people who care about art. The city people want tourism. The people who care about art want the Barnes to stay the same. I understand that the politics may not be pure, but still I am pro-Barnes in the city.

Lastly, the Barnes has no money. The money was lost in political legal dealings, but that doesn’t make it any less lost. It would be better to have the collection together in Philadelphia, then a watered down Foundation in Merion. People suggest that if they have enough money for the new building then they would have had enough money to keep it in Merion. But a museum needs a source of income. They need a political and social elite people to see it and be aware of it and give them money. I think using the money to keep in it in Merion is a temporary fix. And I still argue that prioritizing the dialogues between art created by Barnes is elitist and poorly nostalgic in its own way.

I feel like you cannot exploit art if people are getting to see it. And if you say that institutions do that, then you are giving too much power to the institution. Instead give the power to the art, by seeing it, and talking about it and allowing it to exist where people can interact with it.

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Can a film version of a book be better than the book?

And what makes a film version good?

Comparing films and books really is like comparing apples and oranges. A film is composite work of multiple people while a novel is usually a single person’s effort. And a film crew and production teams have a lot more available to them concerning sensory perception. That’s probably the number one reason people don’t like the movie as much as the book—because it doesn’t look like their vision of the book. Let’s look at four books and movie pairings; all of which I think give some insight into this question: Pride & Prejudice and its various incarnations, the Last of the Mohicans, Les Miserables and Slumdog Millionaire and its predecessor of a different name Q&A. I’ll mention other pairings that go into the categories I have set up, but these four films and books are going to be the main points.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen has quite a few film adaptations. That happens when you write one of the most beloved novels of all time. I’m going to look at three: 1940 film adaptation with Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson, 1995 television adaptation and the 2005 adaptation with Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen. In these examples we see a little microcosm of possibilities when adapting a not-too complicated novel (those will be addressed later). The 1940 adaptation is a wonderful film…if you’ve never picked up a Jane Austen novel. While basically following the same plot as the novel, the characterization greatly diverges from that of the novel. It is nothing too drastic, but a modern Janeite would get really annoyed if she had to watch this instead of a more accurate film version. Also the costumes are circa 1820, not Regency, and Lizzie Bennett does not do hoop skirts. Still, all inaccuracies aside, Greer Garson’s Lizzie is wonderfully acted and really captures what her characters. None of the plots strays too far, unlike the most recent Wuthering Heights adaptation from PBS, where Heathcliff shoots himself (I don’t think is a spoiler, but hint: in the book Heathcliff does NOT shoot himself). This adaptation is about as far from the 1995 version as possible which takes a completely different approach. With Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy, the BBC version spares no plot whatsoever; the film is basically like watching the book on the screen. But does this make it a good movie? I don’t think so. I may be completely biased because Colin Firth never looked like what I thought Mr. Darcy looked like, but even with a  book I love so much, I’d rather the film makers capture the spirit of the book and the characters every single plot detail. That’s why I prefer the 2005 version with Keira Knightley. It does create composite characters and blends plot together. But after I watch that movie, with its gorgeous cinematography and sweeping soundtrack, I get the closest feeling to what happens after I finish the book. I think with a film adaptation of a book like Pride and Prejudice that so many people read over and over again that spirit is way more important that plot. And Jane Austen’s books aren’t plot driven anyway, they are character driven. So I would rather have the notice of a twinge in Mr. Darcy’s hand than an inclusion of all tertiary characters. At least with books that are so beloved like Pride and Prejudice.

Then there is The Last of the Mohicans. I swear, I’ve read this book. I promise, I promise. And I love it. A lot of people don’t believe me. For anyone who has read Melville and knows that there are long sections about describing things that no one really cares about…that is kind of like the entire Leatherstocking series, but without any action in the middle. Still, I think Natty Bumppo was one of the first American Byronic heroes ever written and if you don’t believe me, I’d be happy to send you my research paper from tenth grade comparing Hawkeye Pierce from M*A*S*H and his namesake. But God, this book is boring. Like rather have teeth pulled than finish it boring during some parts. The movie is anything but. The film adaptation with Daniel Day-Lewis probably is better than book, as in more people enjoy it, and it is more interesting. But in this case, comparing the two is not like comparing apples and oranges—it is more like comparing apples and staplers. While with Pride and Prejudice, a reader and a viewer have the same goal: to hear about the love story of Darcy and Elizabeth with biting wit, and wonderful secondary characters. With The Last of the Mohicans, the reader and the viewer usually have two different goals. My goal reading the book was to hear about the wonderful landscapes, and a tale of heroism against odds and the saving of a ward by the hero. In watching the movie, mostly I wanted to see Daniel Day-Lewis. The movie is really a composite of quite a few Leatherstocking tales and overemphasizes Natty Bumppo’s and Cora’s love. But that is what the viewers wanted. I don’t think this is really a bad thing because I don’t think anyone, ever, in the history of film has wanted to see a textually accurate film of The Last of the Mohicans.

Part II is coming soon. I feel like this blog is quite long…and I like cliffhangers.

but feel free to comment now if you think of any movies that are better than the books.

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