The Bittersweet Side of Art

John Haber
in New York City

Chocolate: Karen Finley Was Right

So what is art? I couldn't get around to Tolstoy, but I listened to artists.

Art is religion, with the artist at once priest, shaman, and cult follower. Art is healing, with the artist a cross between a Reichean therapist and kindly family doctor. Art is expression, with the artist a professional neurotic, alcoholic, or heroin addict, whichever puts on less weight. Karen Finley in a rare casual moment

I could parody critics, too, but someone would point out I am one. Fortunately, artists and critics hang out together for good reason. They share an obsession with chocolate. So then it hit me—the artist as chocolate manufacturer.

Remember Karen Finley's performance piece that so upset Republicans in Washington? When she smeared herself with chocolate, when Dieter Roth leaves chocolate busts of himself to degenerate, when Paul McCarthy gives chocolate Santas a pornographic streak, or when Kelley Walker splatters chocolate syrup in place of enamel drips, you only thought the problem was family values. Her real sin was to offend against the essential chocolate nature of body and soul.

Think about it. The early Renaissance is cut into neat squares, along receding diagonals. The High Renaissance is milk chocolate, with a very high fat content. Late Rembrandt is dark chocolate. Rubens is chocolate produced by a factory faster than one can keep up but sold only in the better stores. The later Baroque or Rococo is that ersatz concoction, white chocolate.

American art is the chocolate one finds fashioned into bunnies and other cuddly animals. Impressionism has a cherry center, while Surrealism is nut filled. Cubism is irregular breakup chocolate. Pollock is chocolate that melts all over one's hands and clothing.

Minimalism is sugarless chocolate, Warhol a stack of Hershey bars. Conceptual art is just the wrapper. Postmodern art (like that of an actual Congolese collective) is chocolate with the beans traced to the white male exploitation of Third World resources.

Chelsea today? No one cares any more. You can buy all of the above online, if not at Wal-Mart.

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Oh, and I could give a nasty parody of art criticism, but I really am a critic—and a feminist and a critic of "art as expression." So be sure to check out where I discuss all these artists, periods, and issues. I have this here Web site, you see . . . .


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