I’m still digesting this.
[You can read this brief intro, or skip the preamble and scroll down to the re-blogged article.]
If you don’t know what an NPC is, it’s a “non-player character” in a computer game, and the term is used by the far right to ridicule people on the far left who they see as not being able to think for themselves.
You can’t make this shit up. Somewhere in flyover country, in a community college, in a group art show, someone smuggled in an Expressionist NPC meme sort of painting, and then a group of students destroyed it as performance art. I learned about this obscure event because one of my readers sent me a message titled, “I think this guy reads your blog”.
I do get a lot of hits from small-name colleges out there, but I can never determine the context because when I follow the referral link, I need a password to get in. I assume some of my articles are assigned (optional) reading, but I don’t know if it’s a case of “don’t let this happen to you!” or “please write an article rebutting this perspective”.
In any case, the sentiments the NPC head spouts through its loudspeaker mouth are a lot of the things I complain about in the art world, and this has two possible interpretations. One is that the people spouting those views are NPC types in the art world: mere regurgitaters of received wisdom from authorities. The other is that anyone who opposes that perspective is in cahoots with the people behind the NPC meme, and is thus a far right figure nestled in Trump’s jockey shorts, and with a portrait of Steve Bannon above his bed. I don’t care to be associated with the people behind the NPC meme. The article I’m sharing below seems oblivious to this second interpretation.
I’m not really clear, however, on how NPC is different from calling someone a robot, automaton, sheep, zombie, part of the hive-mind, or a ditto head (what we used to call Rush Limbaugh supporters).
The artist responsible for the painting gave the name Jerry Mathers, who, unless this is a coincidence, is the actor who played Beaver Cleaver in “Leave It To Beaver”. Hard to know how seriously to take a painting ostensibly by the Beaver. Besides, I kinda’ think Barbara Billingsley helped him with his homework.
Also, someone shared with me his suspicion that the performance artists might have made the painting themselves, and staged the whole thing. I hadn’t thought of that.
Performance artists disappear NPC head painting
Claire Sun, editor
The McLean Community College Art Gallery, Owensboro, Kentucky, was broken into just before a group show opening, and an angry, NPC Expressionist painting was hung on the wall. The painting had not been accepted into the show — it was submitted via email, but unanimously rejected — and the culprit(s) removed someone else’s work to make room for it.
The show featured both traditional and more experimental art, and there was a scheduled performance by three art students. These artists spontaneously conceived a new performance work, in concord with gallery goers, to remove and destroy the NPC painting. This new work was a group collaboration, expressing the will of the people present, and engaging the community in the process of both conceiving and realizing the project. There was a discussion and a democratic vote on what to do, and how to go about it. The still-wet painting was taken outside, placed face-down in the dirt, walked over by several people, and then tossed summarily into a dumpster, before returning the original art back to its proper place.
A couple tweets tell the story in short.
Almost immediately, the dean of the art department — who we reached via phone — received an email from “Jerry Mathers”, and from the same, probably bogus, email account from which the submission was originally made. The email contained a tirade about his first amendment rights.
I guess this is supposed to be funny. But, breaking into a gallery and replacing someone’s art with your own slapped-together abomination peppered with ideas that challenge an ultra-conservative and exclusionary, white male art narrative, is annoying and tantamount to violence, but does not elicit a laugh. Nobody was amused when the gallery opened and the garishly ugly painting stood out like a dead rat in a buffet.
As everyone should know by now, not all speech is protected by the first amendment. You can’t slander people, shout “FIRE!” in a movie theater, disseminate child pornography, or engage in speech that puts protected classes of people at risk of violence or intimidation. This travesty is merely a painted attack on vulnerable people, and no more artistic than a racist comment hastily scrawled in a bathroom stall. The NPC meme dehumanizes SJWs, and portrays the people who Trump is trying to deny citizenship, women who need an abortion, and the LGBTQ community as non-entities. The NPC avatar is, significantly, not white, and thus ties into a white supremacist belief that non-white people are mere background characters. You can disagree with people without insisting that they are somehow subhuman, which is historically a justification for misogyny, racism and slavery.
It’s impossible for this to be censorship because the minority cannot censor the majority — the oppressed cannot censor the oppressor. Censorship requires majority plus power plus privilege. BLM can’t censor Fox News. The perspective this painting represents is systemic and institutional. All we can do is change the channel, or remove yet one more iteration of the same old tropes. Creating a safe space in one small art gallery so that the voice of the oppressor doesn’t drown out everything else is the opposite of censorship, it is allowing other voices and other art to exist at all.
There are all kinds of art practices besides painting, and we now understand both that anything that isn’t a painting can be art, and a painting isn’t necessarily art. If this qualifies as art, it barely succeeds, and at best is in horrible taste and severely misguided. Its talking points about art are the bleats of the lovechild of Hilton Kramer and Robert Hughes, and were irrelevant quips when they uttered them themselves, when they were still alive. You can’t kill art that’s dead on arrival.
The performance which took place was part of a new way of conceptualizing art, not as craft, not as a virtuoso artifact of genius, but as a vibrant communication and provocation that allows and arouses thought and reflection on the most important social, historical, and philosophical questions. Hatred, masquerading as art, and hiding behind free speech was here revealed as not art, but an act of violence targeting artists, including women of color and at least one member of the trans community.
A terrible hate cartoon pretending to be art was eclipsed by a spontaneous art event in the name of justice, resisting oppression, and creating a safe space for alternative voices and art practices. This was a small victory, but the war is ongoing.